MPR - 06 JULY 2011: An Open Letter To Our Legislature

Legislators owe their best effort to all the people of their districts

by S.J. Schwaidelson
July 6, 2011

An open letter to our state Legislature: 

I am a Minnesota homesteader who pays a not-so-insignificant amount in property tax, and as such I am compelled to bring to your attention the small matter of whom you serve. 

The state Senate is Republican thanks to an electoral margin of less than 1 percent of all counted votes. The state House is Republican thanks to a margin of just a hair under 2 percent of all counted votes. And the governor was elected governor by a margin of less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. 

Contrary to what you want us to believe, this is not some kind of sweeping mandate, it's the luck of the draw. These margins are thin enough to shave with, and thin enough that they can change in a heartbeat the next time we Minnesotans go to the polls. 

You represent more than the people who cast their votes for you. You represent the whole of your district. This means you need to figure out what your constituency really wants in the light of day instead of relying on some campaign mumbo-jumbo you tossed out there seven months ago. 

Have you asked the state employees in your districts, now laid off without pay, how they feel about the posturing in St. Paul? Have you taken a hard look at your areas to try to figure out how many people are now forced out of work and how much it will cost your district? We are not arguing about hypothetical numbers here. We are talking about real people with real bills who are damaged by these layoffs. AND who will now file for unemployment. 

Keep in mind that people who don't work don't pay income taxes. That's millions of dollars in revenue lost to the state. Forever. There are no backsies on this one. 

If you want to save some dough, how about laying yourselves off at the same time and turning your salaries back to the state? 

In his blog, former Gov. Arne Carlson argues that state cuts usually end up costing local governments more. Look around. Our local governments are already being cut to the bone -- and you want to shift more of the burden to them? 

There needs to be some balance. There needs to be some recognition that state revenue is diminishing as we struggle with the economy. We need to recognize that those of us who are not struggling may need to pitch in a bit more to keep the state afloat. After you make all the cuts you want, make sure you have the safety net in place to catch those who are going to suffer. And if you are choosing not to have a safety net -- and yes, it is a choice -- you must be prepared for the fallout and backlash that will follow. 

With those jobs will go health insurance, and a lot of people will be without means to pay for medical care. Are you prepared to watch them go without treatment? Or are you planning to increase emergency room facilities to cover those who are suffering? And how will we pay for that? 

Reducing state funding of education will affect every school district, including the higher education system. Are you ready to take on the de facto downgrading of our schools and university system on your watch? Are you prepared to accept the University of Minnesota as less than a first class public university? Or to balance its budget by raising fees? Are you ready to tell the children of Minnesotans that a university education is out of their reach? 

So, here's the deal, Minnesota Legislators: It's your job to find a middle ground and make a compromise. Democrats and Republicans alike, none of you represents your party alone. By accepting your seat in the Legislature you have sworn to serve ALL the people of your district, not just a select few. Your responsibility is to the citizenry of this state, not your party chairs. 

It's time to get off your collective high horses and start working out a deal that is fair and equitable to all Minnesotans, regardless of socioeconomic status. Like most people, I don't give a hoot who among you comes up with the working plan, but I can tell you this much: It's going to have to be a compromise. It can't send your poorest citizens deeper into the poorhouse, imperil education, or leave your most vulnerable citizens to suffer without health care. 

The idea is to keep the money coming in so the state can function. We all should be paying our fair share; together we will share the burden, and we all will certainly share the pain. But come on: Stop the playground politics and get on with the real business of running this state. 

Do your jobs.