DFL legislative candidates across the state are making a simple pitch to voters this year: You deserve better than what you have been getting from Republican legislative majorities.
You deserve a Legislature that will put you first and move this state forward.
We face big challenges as families and as a state -- higher gas prices, rising health insurance premiums and tuition costs, and classrooms that are among the most crowded in the country. And while our state government certainly cannot solve all difficulties, we need state legislators who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work in partnership with the private sector.
In fact, as our candidates have knocked on doors across the state, they've heard one theme echoed by Democrats, Republicans and independents: People are sick of the gridlock and are ready for a Legislature that gets basic things done right.
Yet over the past two years, the Republican-led majority did the opposite. Instead of working with Gov. Mark Dayton to reach reasonable compromises, Republicans pushed an extreme agenda that brought our state to a 20-day shutdown. Their rallying cry was: "The time for compromise is over."
The result was a budget that borrowed a record $2.2 billion from our schools and made deep cuts to local public safety funding and services for seniors and people with disabilities.
Republican policy choices -- and they were choices -- also tightened the middle-class squeeze. Rigidly insisting on a discredited top-down, trickle-down economic theory, Republicans refused to close tax loopholes for big, out-of-state corporations. Instead, they chose to take much-needed property tax relief away from the large majority of homeowners, seniors, farmers and small businesses -- to the tune of a whopping $538 million -- by eliminating the homestead credit.
Most alarming, Republicans are offering more of the same if re-elected.
The Republicans' sole re-election argument is their assertion that they turned a deficit into a "surplus." The problem is that the claim is false. The truth, verified by numerous independent fact-checkers, is that Minnesota faces another multibillion-dollar deficit next year, including more than $2 billion that we owe our schoolkids. We may have a few bucks in the savings account, but the credit card is maxed out.
So what will DFL legislators offer if given the chance to govern?
Foremost, we will get our state back to work. Improving our infrastructure and supporting basic research are obvious places for state government to assist in growing Minnesota's innovation economy. And we'll not forget that our prosperity is best grown from the middle out and from the ground up, by helping small businesses and middle-class families succeed.
To achieve that goal, a DFL-led Legislature would make education a top priority once again. Minnesota now ranks 47th in the nation in classroom sizes, and more districts are contemplating four-day school weeks. And along with borrowing billions from local schools, Republicans voted for the biggest cuts in state history to our colleges and universities -- critical economic engines for our state and Minnesota families. Such neglect is unacceptable. We need to make better choices that recognize that world-class education is essential to our economic future.
We'll work to set our state on sound financial footing once and for all, restoring our credit rating, which was downgraded on the Republican watch. We will work to lower property taxes for middle-class families, make our tax system simpler and fairer for Minnesota businesses, and close out-of-state corporate tax loopholes that are expensive and unnecessary.
And we'll keep our focus on these bread-and-butter issues instead of getting mired in divisive debates about social issues and politically driven constitutional amendments.
Some Republicans claim that they should remain in the majority not because their vision is right for Minnesota, but simply to preserve "divided government." It's a sad argument, grounded in fear. These challenging times call for more than holding onto the past and simply saying "no." To move forward and meet our challenges -- growing the economy and improving education -- we need a more practical, collaborative approach.
We do not have to settle for the same old roadblock politics of the past two years that have placed big, corporate special interests ahead of our kids, seniors and middle-class families. On Election Day, you have the power to turn the State Capitol into a place where, once again, progress happens. Minnesotans deserve it.
Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, is minority leader of the Minnesota House.