Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Dec. 16 commentary about budget deficits (“Does anyone care? I do. We all should”) will hopefully help raise in our national discourse the degree to which public debt threatens our future and our freedoms as Americans. As a retiree dependent on Social Security and Medicare that I worked for and contributed to for many years, I am deeply concerned about the threat that debt represents to seniors. Congress passed a massive tax cut in 2017, and then its leadership cynically cited a need to cut our earned benefits in order to offset the tax cuts.
And this gets to one issue I have with Kasich’s piece. Like so many Republicans, he focuses only on the spending side of the growing debt problem, writing that “[d]eficits, debt and their root cause — spending — truly matter.” Revenue is the other side of the equation, and it is the side that needs more attention. Cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations, adding $1.5 trillion to our deficit, made no sense and needs to be reconsidered. And it is high time for Congress to take a hard look at the earnings cap on Social Security payroll taxes. This represents a sizable loss of revenue for Social Security — the most effective antipoverty program ever undertaken by our government on behalf of the general welfare.
Leif Grina, Minneapolis
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A dollar that is not raised has an equal effect on the deficit as a dollar that is spent. Even those in the sadly declining numbers of thoughtful Republicans, such as Kasich, seem not to realize this.
Kevin Phillips, himself a thoughtful Republican commentator, calculated that, over 75 years, the Bush-Cheney tax cuts will cost the U.S. Treasury $11 trillion, almost triple what the cost of shoring up Social Security for that period would be.
Round after round of tax cuts for the wealthy have every bit as much effect on deficits, and ultimately the national debt, as does the same dollar amount in spending.
David Therkelsen, Minneapolis
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Thank you, Gov. Kasich, for your article on the importance of getting the national debt and the federal government’s structural budget deficit under control. Our country’s debt addiction is one of a handful of issues that keep me up at night, fearful for our nation’s and our children’s futures. I share your shocked disbelief that both political parties continue to ignore such an existential threat to our democracy. Like climate change, the longer we procrastinate, the more difficult achieving a solution becomes. I hope you’ll consider a run for the presidency in 2020 so these issues get the visibility they deserve and move us toward making pragmatic, concrete progress to address them.
Rich Brasch, Roseville
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The Kasich commentary appeared next to another (“How to tell if the corporate tax reforms are working”) by an organization’s senior fellow named Karl W. Smith. Contrasting comments by the two authors happened to be about an inch apart. Smith was praising so-called tax reform that provided businesses with a tax cut. He observed that the cuts allow more business capital to be spent, thus increasing “return on investment.” He was in effect emphasizing the temporary economic stimulation of the cuts. In the meantime, Kasich was emphasizing that the deficit spending resulting from the tax cuts causes “workers, businesses and entrepreneurs” to spend savings to pay for all the borrowing, which “leaves them with less to invest in small businesses or initiatives.” Kasich added, “The bottom line result is less growth and innovation.” Another bottom line is that Smith highlighted short-term gain while Kasich highlighted the much more important long-term effect.
Jim Bartos, Brooklyn Park
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It’s very important that rational, experienced, and eloquent individuals like Kasich write informative articles bringing attention to the ever-burgeoning national debt — the “21 trillion-pound gorilla sitting in plain sight.” However, how can he possibly miss the elephant in the room, to borrow another metaphorical idiom, by not once mentioning war or military spending, which is nearing $1 trillion annually? Does anyone care? I do. We all should.
Tim Wirth, Lakeland
Better ways to achieve stability with that proposed $5 billion
I take issue with the Dec. 14 letter writer (“We can afford it. Math with me.”) who set forth a pretty complicated formula of why $5 billion isn’t a lot to pay for the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
According to an article published in this paper last summer by Andrew Selsky of the Associated Press, “very few gang members try to get into the U.S. In fiscal year 2017, the U.S. Border Patrol carried out 310,531 detentions of people who were in the U.S. illegally, but only 0.09 percent of them belonged to the gangs operating in Central America, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics. Instead, it’s often people fleeing gangs who are trying to get into the United States.”
I say take the $5 billion and spend it wisely and smartly where it’s actually needed.
For example, helping those immigrants who just want a job and to raise their families here, with affordable housing and other basic necessities until they can stand on their own. Or investing in those Central American countries in stopping the gangs and violence so that terrified people don’t have to flee their own countries. Or helping the least among us in this country to find decent housing and stability in their lives. I could go on and on. But my pleas will fall on deaf ears as long as the person occupying the White House stays in office.
Nancy Nichols, St. Louis Park
Opinion editor’s note: On a related matter, we note here to clarify the record that the Dec. 14 letter writer mistakenly appended “percent” to some of the numbers he cited. Omit that word, and his calculations were intact.
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
With new leadership, how about a full embrace of online learning?
I hope newly named University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel will consider bringing higher education into the 21st century. In a Dec. 16 discussion of budgetary issues (“The near future of higher ed at the Capitol”), columnist Lori Sturdevant failed to discuss strategic planning that would not only save the U a great deal of money but also would utilize technology. It is confounding why bricks and mortar of a prominent and respected university take precedence over the possibilities of online and virtual schools within a school. Higher learning is transforming and experiential, after all, so going beyond tradition is what a good education demands. Online learning opportunities are no longer second-rate; they are undeniably an exciting part of our future. Adapting to the next wave of information distribution and assimilation ought to be the objective for any CEO, along with the obligation of finding budgetary solutions.
Of course, any shuffling of the status quo will be controversial because positions, schedules and budgets will be affected, yet the outcome for students will be positive. More choices and lower cost, while keeping the high regard for a powerful, respected and dynamic university intact. It is way past the time where learners are relegated to structured, professor-driven classes that leave nontraditional and motivated students behind. Online classes are the next wave. The risk and disruption will be worth the reward.
Sharon E. Carlson, Andover
U PRESIDENT’S SALARY
Matching Kaler is not enough
Two Dec. 14 letter writers expressed concern that the new U president, a female, would be paid less than outgoing President Eric Kaler. Kaler himself has been underpaid. According to the Star Tribune’s list of the top 100 nonprofits, 27 of the 100 CEOs are paid more than the president of the U, including the presidents of the University of St. Thomas and Macalester College.
John Fredell, Minneapolis
Opinion editor’s note: Joan Gabel, formally chosen Tuesday by the Board of Regents to be the next U president, will be paid a $640,000 salary for 2019-20, compared with Kaler’s $625,250 for 2018-19.