Most people don’t pay attention to elections until after Labor Day. So today’s announcement from Rep. Tom Emmer of the third part of his budget plan is just what the doctor ordered for a decent debate on the future of Minnesota. And it’s right on time.
Up to now, it’s been about taxes and how much they should be. That’s a worthwhile discussion, to be sure, and it’s not going away. But it doesn’t lead to a discussion beyond sound bites of “efficiencies” in government or even the role of government.
In announcing his budget plan today, Emmer focuses attention on the biggest piece of the budget pie — human services.
Here’s the section of his budget plan (from his Web site) that will be vigorously debated:
Reprioritize unsustainable, run-away human services spending to focus on the most vulnerable.
Left unchecked, health and human services spending increases will destroy Minnesota’s ability to fund schools, roads, public safety, and other core functions. Health and Human Services is set for a 32% percent increase in FY2012-13. If left unchecked Health and Human Services spending will more than consume current state revenue by 2020.
1. Refocus spending on programs for children and seniors which have been historically underfunded.
2. Work with the legislature to reform programs for adults.
3. Health and Human Services will total $9.6 billion; a $650 million increase in state funding.
The details are still to be debated, Emmer acknowledges. “Most vulnerable.” What does that mean? Up until a year or so ago, it meant the poorest, but when Gov. Tim Pawlenty targeted General Assistance Medical Care in his last attempt to balance the state budget, he targeted the poorest Minnesotans. A budget deal this year kept the program alive for 30,000 Minnesotans.
He also says he’ll cut state mandates to cities. Which ones? His plan calls for an end to “bureaucracies and programs which are not fundamental to state government’s mission.” Like what?
Clearly, there are people who will agree and disagree with Emmer’s budget framework. Presumably, this ends the silly part of the campaign —- $100,000 waiters and proposals that campaign trackers where T-shirts — and puts real issues before the voters that will define the candidates.
It also forces us to address a key question: Four years from now, what exactly should Minnesota look like? It also might even lead to the question nobody ever asks. What part of state government that personally benefits us would we be willing to live without?