I was in the audience of the Burnsville Chamber of Commerce event when Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke last week. During his address, he stated that he wants to divert some of the growth in Minnesota's social service and welfare spending to other priorities. I didn't really find his remarks to be news -- just more of what we've come to expect since he took office.
Contrary to what the governor wants us to believe, it's not funding for welfare and other social services that's crowding out other important budget priorities; it's his unwavering attachment to his "no-new-taxes" pledge. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, 2008 enrollment in Minnesota's welfare programs is forecast to hit its lowest average monthly levels since 1998. And despite inflammatory assertions, Minnesota is far from the welfare magnet it is often portrayed as. According to the state demographer, only a fraction -- 1.3 percent -- of the domestic immigrants who moved to the state between 1995 and 2000 received $1,000 or more in public assistance. In fact, the biggest portion of the health and human service budget is spent on health care, nursing homes and long-term care services for the elderly and disabled.
Pawlenty refuses to acknowledge that it's not fiscal irresponsibility driving up spending growth in health care and social services. Rather, looming demographic trends in Minnesota and the nation will continue to have a significant impact on state and federal budgets. As baby boomers age to retirement and beyond, they will require an increasing variety of long-term care services -- both nursing facilities and in-home care. At the same time, their retirements will yield slower growth in the state's income- and sales-tax base to pay for these services and other state budget items.
To suggest that Minnesotans must sacrifice health care for our children and nursing homes for our aging parents, that we must forgo access to mental health care for veterans or services that allow disabled individuals to fully participate in their community is outrageous and irresponsible. It ignores long-term health care challenges that aren't going away, and it does nothing to move us toward meaningful solutions for other urgent needs in transportation, infrastructure and education.
Perpetuating myths and playing on our fears and biases may serve national political ambitions, but it doesn't serve Minnesota's future at all.
Rep. Shelley Madore, DFL-Apple Valley