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What’s Next For The Middle Class


Minnesota middle-class families are paying more and getting less. It is that fundamental reality against which the Minnesota House DFL will measure the success of the 2011 legislative session. Was the squeeze on middle-class families eased by our decisions or made worse?

Commentary published in Star Tribune January 2, 2011

Middle-class Minnesotans are being squeezed from every direction.

We rightly feel we are just one downsizing away from losing our jobs and not being able to meet our mortgage payments.

We're paying more for our kids' school activities -- everything from soccer to speech team seems to cost hundreds just to participate.

For some hardworking families, paying for a child's college education is nothing more than a dream that has been forgotten.

Minnesota middle-class families are paying more and getting less.

It is that fundamental reality against which the Minnesota House DFL will measure the success of the 2011 legislative session. Was the squeeze on middle-class families eased by our decisions or made worse?

We hope that the Republicans now in charge of the Legislature will join us in standing up for everyday Minnesotans. In these times when real Minnesota families are facing real struggles, the Legislature should be grounded in reality, if nothing else.

Yet if past actions are the best predictors for future behavior, we should all brace ourselves for the Republicans' 2010 campaign rhetoric to crash-land in the face of the reality of governing responsibly in 2011.

In the Republican imagination, we can balance a $6.2 billion state deficit -- a 16 percent hole in our budget -- with something they call "streamlining."
It's painless, doesn't touch our children's educations and has no impact on where our aging parents will live out their golden years. Streamlining is the Republicans' magic wand that will simply wipe away the largest deficit our state has ever faced.

Don't get me wrong: I believe government should do things more efficiently, and I will work with my Republican colleagues to make sure it does.
But I also know we cannot "reform" ourselves out of a $6.2 billion budget hole. Minnesotans deserve better than the promise to pull a rabbit out of a hat. They deserve an honest assessment of the pain that the Republican "all cuts budget" will cause our state.

My DFL colleagues and I will be monitoring the real impact of an all-cuts budget.

Does it mean our schools will be forced to educate 14,000 more Minnesota children next year without a dime to pay for them? Does it mean that middle-class kids will no longer be able to afford college tuition?

Do those cuts mean our grandparents will have to move 100 miles from their grandchildren to the only available nursing home? Does such a budget once again put the squeeze on middle-class pocketbooks through higher property taxes?

Above all, does it put job creation now and in the future in further jeopardy?
Will deeply reducing funding for research and innovation, cutting the money that pays for our firefighters, police and first responders, and decreasing investments in roads to move goods make Minnesota less attractive for employers?

If that is what an all-cuts budget means, then I and my colleagues in the DFL caucus will stand up with middle-class families across our state and demand something better.

Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, is the minority leader-designate in the Minnesota House of Representatives.