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Viewpoint: Minnesota state budget solutions must involve compromise all sides can support

When I came to the Legislature and ever since I've been here, I've pledged to work in a bi-partisan fashion to build consensus. That promise was tested recently when I made the difficult decision to vote against the House Omnibus Tax Bill.

In order to bring an unprecedented $6.4 billion budget shortfall into balance, the House crafted a budget that strategically cuts government spending by $1.6 billion; that's $100 million more in cuts than the Governor proposed.

We also included significant reforms to improve government efficiency, and eliminated some of the onerous mandates that will help school districts and local governments operate with more flexibility.

Additionally, the House proposal included $1.5 billion in new revenue, achieved by a mix of significant tax reform and modest tax increases on high-income wage earners.

The tax bill proposed by the House took steps to make Minnesota's tax system more progressive.

I was happy to see these reforms in the bill because our tax system can only be fair if taxes are tied to our ability to pay them. However, I disagreed with several items in the House tax bill, not the least of which was the size of the revenue increases and the repeal of several tax deductions.

That's why, despite wide-spread agreement on the need for new revenue, I voted no.

On an issue as important as state tax policy, we need to craft measures that keep the lines of communication open with both sides of the legislative aisle and with the governor. In my opinion, this bill did not do that.

Still, most everyone on both sides of the aisle agrees that a cuts-alone approach would fundamentally change our state -- and not in a good way.

It would close nursing homes and hospitals, all of our state parks, and one, or maybe two state prisons. It would cut a wide swath through our public schools with 10,000 teachers losing their jobs, and also decimate our court system.

Clearly, new revenue must be part of the solution to solve our budget shortfall, and the governor agrees. He proposed raising $1.6 billion dollars of new revenue through the use of appropriation bonds to bridge the budget gap.

However, his plan would cost Minnesota taxpayers $600 million in interest that would need to be paid off over the course of the next 20 years.

In fact, that plan was debated extensively in the House last week, and was overwhelmingly rejected on a vote of 130 to 2, with legislators on both sides agreeing that it is wrong for Minnesota.

So this is the crossroads we're at as we face the final few weeks of the 2009 legislative session. I agree with the governor that some new revenue will be necessary to bridge the shortfall we face.

Yet, I continue to believe we need to cut spending first, set responsible priorities about how we spend our tax dollars, and raise new revenue only as the last resort.

Setting responsible priorities means making sure we get full value for every dollar spent by the state.

I'll continue working to reduce inefficiencies and increase transparency in each of the programs we fund so taxpayers can be better assured their tax dollars are being well spent. And, I'll continue working to craft compromise all sides can support.

I believe it's what I was sent here to do, and more important, that's exactly what my constituents are telling me to do.

Swails (DFL-Woodbury) represents District 56B in the Minnesota House. To contact her, call (651) 296-1147, 409 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155 or e-mail