Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton shared with us his thoughts on those who question his constant call for Minnesota income tax increases: "This unwillingness to pay taxes and seeing it as a threat to our freedom and our liberty and our way of life, to me, is going to be the death of this country if it's not corrected."
Really? Opposition to tax increases equals the death of America?
The governor's statement exemplifies the frustration (and yes, anger) so many in America feel toward government today. Government spending grows year after year; its reach expands without restraint; we see endless examples of our money being wasted, and then politicians opine that those of us who question higher taxes must be somehow "corrected" or we will destroy America.
The truth is, many of us who are conservatives would not oppose higher taxes if the ruse that government has "cut to the bone" were true.
The fact, however, is that government spending at nearly every level has been increasing at rates greater than inflation for many decades -- even during the past few years of supposed austerity.
Look at the state of Minnesota. According to Minnesota's Office of Management and Budget, state biennial (two-year) spending increased from $1.2 billion in 1962-63 to $62.6 billion in 2012-13 (based on the biennial budget passed last year). That's a 5,000 percent increase in 50 years.
But what about the Tim Pawlenty years, you ask, when we slashed spending programs beyond recognition? The four biennial budgets during that eight-year period increased from $45.8 billion to $58.4 billion -- an average 3.4 percent increase each year. Not the out-of-control increases we saw in the decades before, but far from the "cuts" we heard about on a daily basis.
But wait, just this last year the governor supposedly gave in to the Republican "all cuts" budget after the government shutdown, right? That "all cuts" budget will actually result in a spending increase of 7.2 percent from the 2010-11 biennium to the 2012-13 biennium.
The truth is, government constantly grows and spends more, even when government tells us it's doing exactly the opposite.
Add to that the fact that prioritizing spending seems to be a completely foreign concept to some in public office. We are told that government is too broke to fund even basic functions properly (hence the need for more tax revenue) only to later learn that spending continues to increase in order to fund what anyone would recognize as "wants" over "needs."
Maybe those examples are at the federal level: Hundreds of millions for a "bridge to nowhere" or tens of billions for "high-speed" rail that few will ride. Or the state level: $25 million for a new St. Paul Saints stadium or $11 million for gorilla and polar bear exhibits at the Como Zoo. Or even the local level (for example, in Hennepin County, where I serve): $700,000 for landscaping at the county garbage burner or nearly $1 million for new art in the libraries.
Regardless of the level, no one can argue with a straight face that government is too broke to fix the roads, patrol the streets or fund the schools. And the constant cry of government poverty and the dire need for tax increases to staunch the bleeding just doesn't ring true to many Americans (including some of us in Minnesota).
I believe that government can serve multiple positive roles in society and am not one to suppose that it is inherently evil. I choose to live in Minnesota, for heaven's sake, where the fish, mosquitoes and government are all bigger than average.
But I also think it's healthy for our state to have citizens who question tax hikes after a half-century of unabated spending increases and examples of nonessential spending that make one's head spin.
And, unlike Dayton, I don't happen to believe that those of us who oppose higher taxes spell the death of America. In fact, that some Americans are speaking up about government spending and taxes gives me real hope that I can leave my kids a country and a state even greater than the one left to me.
Jeff Johnson, of Plymouth, is a member of the Hennepin County Board and is Minnesota's Republican national committeeman.