Minnesotans are being offered a state of mediocrity. Put it in the clothes of compromise, of ending the very real pain that is being inflicted on people and businesses or even on the politicians' instinct to save their skins, the deals being bandied about by Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders are sacrificing the state's long-term future for short-term solutions.
Enough is enough. It's time for policymakers on the left and the right to face the reality of a state in economic crisis. That was the call to action two years ago by the Budget Trends Commission.
"Today, the economy is weaker and the state's fiscal problems have grown more apparent," said the commission's report. "If Minnesota wishes to have the prosperity it had in past decades, the solutions will need to be robust, effective and immediate."
The commission wasn't from a lefty think tank, but a bipartisan group co-chaired by a former GOP legislator and Cabinet member in the administration of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Its findings paralleled the conclusions of the 21st Century Tax Reform Commission, a business-led, Pawlenty-appointed group that rejected the simplistic "no new taxes" philosophy.
In its 2009 report, it said that Minnesota's "outdated tax system hinders growth in the 21st-century knowledge-based economy, with its increasingly global markets for investment capital and labor..."
To be sure, Dayton is trying to end the budget stalemate that has been painful and harmful to many. But this is not the time to revert to stopgap measures and proposals that further mortgage Minnesota's future. This is the time for boldness.
Breaking the gridlock will require a third option that goes beyond holding the line on spending or generating more revenue from taxpayers. That option is Minnesota's future prosperity.
Dayton should lead the call to solve the current budget dilemma in the context of a long-term plan for prosperity. Create a two-year budget that is the first step in a 10-year plan of redesign and innovation.
The governor is offering ill-conceived concessions at just the time when the window was cracked open for a bold call to action. No doubt, Dayton faced the reality of Republican leaders and party bosses being able to hold their members in line on the narrow issue of a $34 billion budget in the current biennium. But more and more of today's Republicans are showing a willingness to go beyond GOP talking points if the focus is on the future.
Republican legislators like Red Wing's Sen. John Howe recognize that short-term thinking won't produce long-term policy reform. In a recent opinion article, Howe wrote, "Whether Republicans are able to hold the line at a $34 billion budget, or the governor finds a way to generate more money from the taxpayers, Minnesota will still be left with a broken, unreliable fiscal system, and we'll be right back here in two years having the same battle."
Gov. Dayton should build the future on the principles he holds in common with some Republican legislators and their traditional allies. This isn't a pie-in-the-sky, can't-we-all-get-along pitch for comity, but a reminder that this governor and this Legislature started the session with agreement on two deeply partisan and long-contentious issues.
They brokered important deals to create alternative teacher licensure that will bring new expertise to Minnesota's classrooms, and to streamline a permitting process to remove unnecessary regulations on businesses. In these areas, they shared the principles that students need to have access to practical, state-of-the-art information, especially in technical areas, and that Minnesota needs to be a less costly place in which to do business.
What are the principles that ought to guide our leaders from here on? Government programs need to be redesigned, not just made cheaper. A tax system should be fair, reliable and understandable. Minnesota businesses need the resources to invest in innovation and job creation.
A long-term outlook gives everyone the space they need to stay true to their core principles, while implementing the innovative solutions that will restore Minnesota's economic vitality.
Minnesota needs new approaches to tax policy, health, higher education and economic development, especially in smaller communities. But the reality is that good solutions take time and, in some cases, new money.
If Republicans truly want government to "live within its means," take the long view. If Dayton really wants a tax system that is fair, sustainable and generates the revenue needed for a Minnesota that holds opportunity for everyone, demand a plan that goes beyond the immediate crisis.
And if we Minnesotans want an end to the gridlock that is devastating to so many people and businesses, now is the time for us to demand the kind of bold, innovative policies and leadership that will keep Minnesota a state of prosperity.
Tom Horner, a former public relations executive and MPR News political analyst, was the Independence Party candidate for governor of Minnesota in 2010.