Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Remarks on the Minnesota shutdown for Sen. Al Franken

Hello, and thank you for welcoming me here today. We stand in the shadow of a state capitol that has shut down; where work has ground to a halt because of the unwillingness of Republicans to negotiate in good faith. This state faces challenges as severe as any we have faced before, and just like their allies on the national level, these lawmakers would rather watch the whole system burn to the ground than accept a proposal that has even a hint of bipartisanship. As we speak, the President is involved in his own around the clock negotiations, trying to build a compromise that will raise the federal debt ceiling and prevent another economic collapse. I intend to continue voicing Minnesota’s concerns in Washington, and during this brief time that I’m away from the Capitol I am in constant touch with my office. In fact, I just finished speaking with Majority Leader Reid who discussed with me this latest round of talks. He told me there’s more work ahead, but he’s sure an agreement can be made, and that he looks forward to Minnesota setting an example for the country by showing that citizens are willing to stand up for what is fair and right, and that means a balanced approach to balanced budgets!

In a lot of ways, Minnesota and the US government are facing the same problems. Each is saddled with the huge debt and deficit handed down after eight years of Republican rule, and each has their future held hostage by a party willing to sacrifice the economy as a whole for the pennies of the rich. Tim Pawlenty spent eight years preparing for a Presidential campaign instead of putting in an honest effort on behalf of this state. He likes to claim in debates that he reigned in taxes and spending, but Minnesotans know the truth. We know the kinds of accounting tricks he used, and how vital one time fixes like the Federal stimulus money were to his budgets. He simply kicked the can down the road, and now state Republicans are saying we should continue this approach and just hope our problems go away. They said that when it came to budget negotiations it was their way or none at all, and their price for keeping the state open was to borrow $700 million from school aid payments, and even more money from future lawsuit settlement payments. These aren’t revenue sources, they’re just more debt! The party that likes to advertise itself as fiscally conservative says we should ask for an advance on the money coming in tomorrow, and simply not pay the people that can’t do anything about it! Well Governor Dayton said “no more”, and refused to give in to this extortion. He isn’t a tax and spender. In fact, Governor Dayton has already agreed to $2 billion in cuts, and knows we must make sacrifices, but when he said these cuts need to be balanced by increased revenue Republicans walked out of the room. Now it is time for us to show him our support, and to tell these new Republicans to start taking this deficit seriously, or get out of Saint Paul!

Some of you may have heard a story starring Governor Dayton as the evil man who shut the state down because the Republicans wouldn’t let him raise your taxes. Well, if you make more than $1 million a year in income, that’s true. Currently, you and the rest of the top .3% in Minnesota only pay 9.7% in taxes while the average person pays 11.5. If you think that’s the way things ought to stay, I recommend pulling out the checkbook and making another one of those unlimited donations to the Tim Pawlenty, GOP Super PAC. If, however, you think a slight tax increase for the millionaires club is an acceptable price to pay for continued K-12 funding, elderly at-home services, and affordable MnSCU tuition, then follow us!

As the lights turn off in offices across Minnesota, people are beginning to get a reminder of just some of the things our government does. The vast majority of services are still running, but maybe the inconveniences of closed rest areas and parks, and of delayed road construction and background checks will make some of those who advocate for tiny government reconsider what that actually means. Our government educates; our government protects its citizens. It imprisons criminals, and helps care for those who are unable to care for themselves. Our government has built roads and bridges across the land of 10,000 lakes, and ensures that those lakes aren’t polluted by industrial waste. There are hundreds of services that are provided everyday, and which are forgotten about, and taken for granted. Those missing during this shutdown just scratch the surface.

So what can we do? We can start by acknowledging this has been a long time problem, and that a $5 billion deficit didn’t just spring up in the six months since Mark Dayton was sworn in. We can accept the common sense wisdom that you can’t fix a budget problem this big through cuts alone. Most importantly, we can demonstrate to the rest of the country that the power in our democracy still resides with the people! Big corporations may have been given the right to free speech in our government, but we still are the ones who hold the vote! I want you to write your State Representative, and your State Senator, and tell them that the top .3% need to pay as much as the average Minnesotan. Tell them that our children’s education funding isn’t there to play games with, and to stop kicking that can down the road. And once you write them, I want you to call, just to make sure they get the message! I work in a Senate office, and I can tell you we pay close attention to what our constituents say. If these Representatives get ten letters they’ll think they’re swamped. If they get a hundred they’ll say, “there might be some real discontent out there,” and if they get a thousand they’ll know their jobs are on the line! We can make a difference, even just with the people here tonight. We can let our leaders know we’ll be holding them to a higher standard, and expecting them to come together and show this whole country that compromise and honorable governing is still possible. Let’s make our voices heard! Thank you, and God bless Minnestota.

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