A Legislator’s Job

Well it has been a busy campaign season from parades to fairs, to fund raising events, to phone calling and door knocking. But we have had some beautiful fall weather to do it in. I had a great time Sunday afternoon talking to voters around Cedar Lake with former Representative and Speaker of the House Bob Vanasek and his wife Mary. I congratulated Bob on being named the new honorary consul of the Czech Republic, a well deserved honor for him.

I enjoy asking Bob what he thinks of the current legislature and really value his analysis of Minnesota politics. He said he was impressed with Speaker Kelliher and thought she showed a steady hand throughout the last session. He talked about the challenges we might face if we end up with a veto proof majority, saying that the biggest majority he remembered being a part of had 100 DFLers. Bob said in effect it meant the DFL became both the Majority and Minority and fought among themselves. Republicans sat back and watched from the side. “You will need to have very good leadership to hold all 90 some together if you end up with that super majority.”

His talking about our situation got me thinking about an essay I wrote recently that was published in the Capitol Report, let me know what you think of it:

As I see it, a legislator’s job is to make sure government does what it should to make all of us secure and prosperous. The government must do its part in providing roads, bridges, education, a fair and efficient health care system, a clean environment, and a forward-looking energy policy. When government doesn’t do these things, we all lose an essential safety net.

We’re in a financial crisis that seems to get worse with every passing day. It’s only natural that many will offer the same old solutions to a new and frightening challenge. They’ll say, “cut taxes” and hope you’ll accept such a simple approach to a complicated problem.

All the things I’ve mentioned government must do are not luxuries we can have in good times and give up in bad times. They’re essential to a well functioning middle class society. Without them, the vast majority will become less secure and less prosperous.

My solution to our economic problems does not “throw the baby out with the bath” in a rush to cut taxes at any cost. Rather, I want to make sure the safety net we have come to rely on stays in place and in good order. Furthermore, I want to do that without loading more debt onto our grandchildren’s shoulders.

Some of you are old enough to remember an economy that built the interstate system instead of letting bridges fall down and roads fall into disrepair. Some remember being able to finish college without going deeply in debt. Some remember doctors, not bill collectors, coming to your home when you were sick. Some remember when the Environmental Protection Agency was founded and the great attention we paid to air and water quality. Of course, some remember an economy when one wage earner was enough to support a family.

In short, some of us can remember a time when our economy worked for most people. Today we have an economy that is moving us closer to what some might call a ‘banana republic’ where a few have anything they want and most folks have very little. The numbers are shocking: barely one percent of our citizens have over 20 percent of the wealth. For the record, it hasn’t always been this way. In the 1970’s, the richest handful of Americans had closer to 10 percent of the wealth.

This isn’t a good situation. The last time the super-rich controlled so much of our national wealth was 1929, and we all know what happened right after that. I hope we aren’t in for another Depression, and will do everything I can to prevent it. But I don’t think the simple slogan of “cut taxes” is the answer.

My solution has two parts that work together.

First, put the economy back on a growth track by raising taxes to the very richest and using that money to restore the social safety net we need now more than ever. Studies show the super-rich are more likely to hoard money than they are to spend it on goods and services that provide jobs and growth. This is why I support a fourth tier income tax for the richest Minnesotans. We need to keep money circulating in ways that grow the economy.

Second, I will not raise the income tax rate for anyone else. Instead, I’ll focus on using additional tax revenue to provide what I consider to be the five building blocks of a well-functioning middle class society. The five building blocks: a safe and efficient transportation system so goods can be delivered and working people can get to work; a secure public education system that assures children enter school ready to succeed and will have the resources to go on to higher education should they have the desire and ability to do so; assurance of good health and access to needed health care that won’t impoverish anyone; a safe environment protected by safe clean energy and production practices that support safe healthy living; and finally an economic environment that assures working people living wage jobs so they can participate in our economy and afford to keep body and soul together while they build for a better future for those who come after.

I believe in the spirit of our people to meet the challenges before us. But I don’t believe we should try to meet those challenges alone. We must go forward with necessary contributions good government can make. We are seeing the consequences of “no government is good government” policies the last eight years brought us, and they are not pretty.

These are tough times. You can count on me to work toward responsible solutions to unprecedented challenges. Most of all, you can count on me to remember you each and every day I am working toward those solutions.

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