This week the Minnesota Senate gave preliminary approval to its education finance bill. It reflects the difficult decisions Minnesota faces as a result of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Those hard choices, however, are also part of a bigger plan that will put the state on the path to a healthier fiscal future.

While the Senate's education finance bill reduces education spending by about 3 percent, it was the first step in finding a fair way to balance the state's budget. Because early education through 12th grade takes about 40 percent of the state's general fund, the Senate concluded that holding education totally harmless would have devastated the state's ability to meet all of its vital obligations.

These other budget areas -- including nursing homes, hospitals, local police and fire and the courts -- will have significantly higher cuts than education, but less than they would experience if education were not bearing part of the budget-balancing burden. If we force health care, local public safety and the courts to absorb even greater cuts, we will see hospitals and nursing homes bankrupt, vulnerable and disabled adults and seniors unable to access essential services, prosecutors unable to prosecute, and local police and fire unable to protect our cities and counties.

While we attempt to ensure that state government meets its obligations to fund essential services, the Senate actually cuts more spending than the governor has proposed. But in order to balance the budget in the future, the Senate also plans to raise revenue in a balanced and fair manner on the basis of ability to pay. Fair, proportionate cuts and measured revenue increases -- these are the only responsible methods to solve the state's fiscal crisis and ensure future stability that will allow Minnesota to invest in education and job creation when the economy begins to recover.

The Senate's spending cuts and additional revenue will balance the budget now, instead of pushing our problems into the future. The Senate's budget cuts state spending more than it raises new revenue. This downward pressure on spending will bring about needed reforms and efficiencies in the way government does business.

Putting Minnesota's fiscal house in order will ultimately result in greater stability and better public services. The short-term shared sacrifice is the only way to ensure a more prosperous future -- one with improved access to health care, an educated workforce able to meet the demands of a strong economy, and quality services that best meet the needs of all of our citizens.