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If the state wants to improve, it has to pay for it

Date Published: 07/15/2006

Author: Erik Peterson


How quickly things change.

Five months ago, Duluth voters overwhelmingly supported a tax increase to expand the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. We understood that making such an investment would pay off big in building a stronger local economy and a more stable community. At the time, the Duluth News Tribune agreed.

The newspaper's attitude seemed to change with the June 26 editorial, "Have a little extra money? Just send it to the state." Some 200 of Minnesota's wealthiest residents had taken out a full-page ad in the Star Tribune as part of the grassroots Growth & Justice group's "Invest for Real Prosperity" initiative. The ad stated the signers would be willing to pay more in taxes to ensure all Minnesotans could thrive and succeed. The News Tribune called the suggestion a "waste of time."

However, there's nothing silly about the idea, or the call to raise taxes on wealthier Minnesotans to pay for sensible investments in education, health care and transportation.

What Growth & Justice, a new progressive economic think tank, proposed is a refreshing and long overdue discussion about how to pay for the quality of life we have come to expect in Minnesota -- and in a way that is fair and balanced. What is silly is that the only response to this serious discussion about investing in our future is the tired and simplistic mantra of "no new taxes."

No new taxes means no new schools, no new roads or bridges, no better health care, no new train to Duluth, and, yes, no new DECC.

Growth & Justice and the now more than 300 wealthier Minnesotans who signed onto the ad's offer stepped up to say, "We can no longer afford not to raise the revenue needed to make critical investments."

Why don't politicians understand? Ordinary folks who have to balance family budgets get it. They understand they need to fix the roof or there will soon be a mess in the living room. Likewise, successful businesses understand the need to invest in their own growth and in their own infrastructure, capacity and the training of their workers. If a business fails to invest, it will fail as a business.

Minnesota is long overdue for a serious discussion about how it will raise the money necessary to invest in schools, preschool through higher education, affordable and accessible quality health care, and sensible transportation.

Growth & Justice offered a comprehensive investment strategy for real prosperity, where the benefits of economic growth are open to everyone in the state. This strategy begins with a vision most Minnesotans can agree on, that every Minnesotan deserves:

To achieve this vision, Growth & Justice called for an investment of $2 billion, or a penny on every dollar earned in Minnesota; the money spent on proven strategies to improve Minnesota's schools, health care and transportation systems. We propose raising this revenue fairly by reducing the "tax gap" between wealthy and middle-income Minnesotans, a gap where those earning the most pay the least in taxes as a percent of their income. Now, people who earn more than $400,000 pay 8.4 percent in state and local taxes while middle-class families pay 11.3 percent.

Finally, Growth & Justice builds into its proposal a "price of government" measure to ensure accountability and restraint in government spending. This corresponds to what many polls say about Minnesotans' willingness to pay for a high quality of life as long as we have confidence our money will be spent wisely and with good result.

The Growth & Justice proposal is bold and should set a new mark for political debate in the coming election season.

The News Tribune seems to think elections are a poor time to raise such important issues. I can think of no better time to begin the discussion. Thankfully, hundreds of other Minnesotans have agreed and signed onto the Growth & Justice plan. They voted for honest discussion and real prosperity.

ERIK PETERSON of Duluth is a board member of Growth & Justice (www.growthandjustice.org) and is director of the Northern Minnesota Programs with the Labor Education Service at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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