In the Middle Ages, a serf could petition the lord to stop paying taxes. The lord would come to the serf’s home and pour a quantity of wine on the serf’s roof. If the wine ran down the serf paid his taxes. If the wine ran up the serf did not have to pay.
The Minnesota Legislature is sending tax bills to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s roof in the hope that he will sign them. Much as the medieval serf hoped the wine would run up, the Minnesota Legislature hopes that Pawlenty will sign a tax bill. The medieval serfs had an excuse — they had no education and had never heard of gravity. The Minnesota Legislature and Pawlenty only have the excuse of playing politics.
The economic crisis in this country and in Minnesota demands that a politician become a statesperson and do what is best for Minnesota and the country. Whatever is done this session will only be the beginning of a process that will take years to resolve Minnesota’s economic woes. The $6.4 billion crisis can only be addressed by the Minnesota Constitution and its requirement to balance the budget that can be accomplished with a combination of revenue increases and cuts or just cuts, but the budget has to be balanced.
Pawlenty has repeatedly stated that he will not sign a revenue increase. There are not enough Republican votes in the House for an override of his veto of a tax bill, so the entire $6.4 billion shortfall will have to be addressed with cuts. Since the session ended in May 2008, I have met with local units of government and constituent groups asking them to prepare for what was then predicted to be a $2 billion to $4 billion shortfall (and is now a $6.4 billion shortfall) and to prepare their budgets accordingly.
Cuts this deep will transform Minnesota’s relationships with local units of government, K-12 education, higher education, and state agencies. Services once taken for granted will no longer be part of Minnesota’s quality of life. The impact the cuts will have on every aspect of life in Minnesota should have been the discussion all during session.
Instead we are pouring wine on Gov. Pawlenty’s roof and hoping it will run up. The gravity of this crisis requires that we at least tell Minnesota the truth and do the best with the resources that we have, with or without a tax bill.
DFLer Gene Pelowski represents District 31A in the Minnesota House of Representatives.