Letter: We've been spending our way into oblivion
Thank you for the June 24 editorial reprint from the Owatonna People's Press. I always had an inkling that our Worthington newspaper folks had more sense than to just give us the regular diet of Forum information whether it is Forum's news writers or the editorials from other Forum-owned newspapers. The constant harping on either Tim Pawlenty or the conservative legislators is over-tiring and seriously lacking in fairness.
What I desire is any Forum newspaper to defend, in any way possible, the old way Minnesota government had been doing business for so many years. I attended a meeting in 1968, when it was announced that our state was about to have its first $1 billion budget. Thirty-four years later, Gov. Jesse Ventura left office with a $28.3 billion budget in place (with a $4.5 billion deficit) for Pawlenty and the legislature to fix in the first six months of that year.
To get from a $1 billion budget to $28.3 billion in 34 years requires raising the budget 10.3 percent every year. Tell us, how on earth is that kind of budget growth sustainable? The answer is very clear. That is absolutely not sustainable. If so, Gov. Pawlenty and the Legislature should have continued on that path and by the time he left office, the budget would have been in excess of $60 billion, not the 30-some billion that it was.
But, someone would argue, $28.3 billion was not what was settled for after Ventura left. Correct. It was somewhere in the area of $24 billion. So, to get from $1 billion to $24 billion in 34 years still gives us 9.8 percent per-year growth for 34 years. Is that sustainable? If you think that's OK, then after eight years of Pawlenty and the Legislature, at 9.8 percent per year, we'd have a budget in excess of $50 billion (not the $30+ billion we had). My conclusion is that Gov. Pawlenty and every legislator that worked with him to get spending under control deserves a medal for keeping the growth of the budget to around 4 percent per year. But some will still say, "But there were tricks such as pushing spending into the next year to accomplish it." Let's buy into that, too, if it's true: That still won't get us to 4.5 percent per year growth. And I suspect I am more than correct to share that the average Minnesota household income did not grow at 4.5 percent per year during that same time.
Conclusion: In spite of the fact that our state population has not even kept up with the growth rate of the nation as a whole, we just kept right on spending our way into oblivion over the past decades and have now grown so accustomed to spending more money in almost every department that it is very difficult to go on a healthy financial diet. It is easy to write article after article, "We can't skimp on education," "We surely can't forget transportation," "Don't touch social services," "Take care of the veterans," "Agriculture is the backbone of our economy," "The courts and law enforcement need more money," "Oh, but the nursing homes" ... name your favorite cause. You and I can make a case for our favorite cause all we want, but the above figures do not lie. The problem is not lack of taxing or spending. If taxing and spending were the solution, the above should have made us the richest and best off state in the nation.
The state budget is our budget. Every one of us. "Let George pay for it," but every one of us is a George, so keep that in mind.
A budget of $34 billion for a biennium for a state of just over $5 million people is huge. Buckle up, governor, and take ride on it. That budget is still representative of a growth greater than the household income growth in our state to pay for it. Don't forget now: We're still growing the budget on top of double-digit bloating of it for 34 years. You'd think we could just leave it level for several bienniums.