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Lawmaker's View: Reckless tax cuts have us back in 'the bad old days'

If the goal of government is to work for people and improve their lives, 2017 was a problem year — and 2018 looks to be worse.

Jennifer SchultzA year ago, Minnesota had a state budget surplus and a large general reserve, with special reserves earmarked for purposes like health care. Following deep tax cuts to benefit out-of-state corporations and interests like the tobacco industry and deep withdrawals that slashed reserves, the state faces a deficit in 2018 and the prospects of even larger deficits in the following years.

Gov. Mark Dayton fought the tax cuts, but the legislative majority refused to budge. Without necessary revenue, the budget will have to be balanced by cutting programs, including education, health care, transportation infrastructure, and local government aid.

Of course, we faced this same crisis during the Gov. Tim Pawlenty administration, but the lesson that tax cuts for special interests and the wealthy must be paid for by deep cuts to programs our citizens and communities need apparently did not sink in for the majority party. We fixed this in 2013, but reckless tax cuts have sent us back to the bad old days.

Health care for many Minnesotans is endangered by the Legislature's fiscal policies and by federal cuts attacking our programs for children, seniors, and families. Minnesota budget reserves have been squandered on large, short-term and one-time payments to insurance companies without addressing root problems. Insurance companies have been allowed to transfer reserves intended to finance health care for their customers to profits for stockholders and executives. The determination of the administration of President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress to cut health care potentially jeopardizes programs up to and including Medicare itself. Insurance prices continue to rise, and insurance companies continue to abandon markets in nonmetro Minnesota. More and more Minnesotans face the prospect of having their health care taken away by politicians whose goals of reducing taxes overshadow the needs of our people.

In addition to restoring budget sanity by creating lasting revenue streams to ensure our children's education, our cities' fiscal integrity, our transportation infrastructure, and the higher education and research that have driven our state's economic success, it is time to begin the process of actually fixing health care in Minnesota.

The proposed MinnesotaCare buy-in program would address problems at their root, making affordable, high-quality health insurance available in every community — insurance already accepted by most hospitals and doctors, including both major systems in the Northland. The MinnesotaCare buy-in would offer reduced costs and programs to improve care while still paying providers at the same levels as Medicare. It would make insurance available for all people regardless of preexisting conditions, gender, or age, with no ongoing increase in state spending.

It is time for Minnesotans to demand that their leaders in St. Paul create a government that works in the real world, not just in fantasies that ignore the rules of economics and the lessons of experience. Hopefully their leaders are ready to listen.

Rep. Jennifer Schultz of Duluth is a DFLer who represents Minnesota House District 7A. She wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.

About this series

The News Tribune Opinion page asked community leaders to look into their crystal balls and to share their insights into what the new year might bring.

Monday: City of Duluth

Tuesday: St. Louis County

Wednesday: Duluth school district

Thursday: Minnesota Legislature

Friday: Northland economy

Saturday: Downtown

Sunday: Washington, D.C.

Monday: Tourism

Join the conversation: What do you see in your crystal ball? Letters to the editor can be directed to letters@duluthnews.com.

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