Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has decided to go it alone on the state budget, using his line-item veto and unallotment to unilaterally chart Minnesota’s future. He has stuck to a fundamentalist “no new taxes” line, throwing the legislature’s budget out of balance by striking down revenue increases, and is going to work on his own path of cutting services and funding. This is a deeply undemocratic act (which Pawlenty appears to be making quite gleefully), and counter to a long Minnesota tradition of generosity and compassion.
The University of Minnesota, K-12 school districts, Minnesota’s cities and towns, and the health care system will all be harmed by the budget cuts. Jobs will likely be lost, and Minnesota’s infrastructure further eroded, just so Pawlenty can hold to a hard line on taxes that made little sense when times were good but makes far less sense when times are bad. Far fewer people will benefit from Pawlenty’s stance on taxes than will be hurt.
As angry as I am at the governor, though, I’m equally disappointed with the DFL legislature. This was their opportunity to step up to the challenges of a new era in governance, a chance to make the case that reviving the “Minnesota Miracle” means asking everyone to pitch in, and they failed, pushing their tax bill through at the last moment, after deadline, when they should have been building the case for months. In this environment, there’s a good chance that people would have listened.
The pendulum is swinging, and not only the governor but the legislature have managed to be struck by it. If we learn anything from the economic meltdown of the last year, it should be that a system that prospers the few against the many is not a recipe for wealth, and that a society that shares prosperity more equitably is better prepared for the inevitable failures. Both the governor and the legislature are guilty of wishful thinking, looking to 2010 to solve all of their problems. Better that they participate in, as Lloyd Alexander called it, hopeful dreaming: imagining ways in which we can rise to our challenges, slough off the shackles of the past, and create a state, if not a world, where we value more than the short-term gain.
Hopeful dreaming is an active process. The hopeful dreamer is willing to take his tumbles with the world, not insisting on the immediate gratification typical of infantile demands, but with the patience that is one sign of growing up. The hopeful dreamer says, “If not now, maybe someday . . .”
Lloyd Alexander, “Wishful Thinking — or Hopeful Dreaming?”, in Fantasists on Fantasy: A collection of Critical Reflections by Eighteen Masters of the Art