Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Basic Premise: The budgetary problems are not state problems, they are not city problems, they are not county problems, or school district problems. The budgetary problems are OUR problems and that includes everyone and every governmental unit or agency in the state of Minnesota. If we – Minnesota citizens – deal with this on a global perspective ----we will prevail. We are a great state and we can solve big problems.

How should the problem be solved?
This question is why we are where we are today. We have different ideas on what is best for our citizens. Rep. Paul Thissen was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He said the Governor’s idea and specifically (the Governor’s) veto of GAMC (General Assistance Medical Care) was wrong. Why?

“We are breaking a promise that we’ve had in Minnesota for generations, that we are going to take care of those least able to take care of themselves.
The other thing is, it’s a clear example of short-term thinking. It’s thinking we can solve problems by not paying for them, or just moving them off of government’s books. That is just not true.

What the governor did with GAMC in marquee style puts up the fundamental debate we’ve been having for the past decade. We’ve had this notion put before us that we can keep the Minnesota we have always known without paying for it. That’s tied to the notion that we’re all on our own, and should be able to take care of ourselves. The pendulum is swinging back to the idea that we do owe obligations to each other.”(End of quote)

It is particularly upsetting to me and many others that the people affected by this veto are folks who do not have a voice at the capitol. The poorest of the poor are the people for which the counties must provide safety nets.

Running government like a business.
Many statements from our leaders and citizens have implored us to run our governmental units like a business OR we have been asked to run our governmental units just like a family runs their family budgets. These statements make good “sound bytes” but these ideas are unworkable and will not solve our budgetary problems.

WHY? The analogy is somewhat like comparing apples and oranges. There are several examples why this idea is unworkable for governmental units. I will only mention one. Businesses – by their vary nature---- EXIST TO MAKE A PROFIT.

Governmental units exist to serve citizens. Governmental units have great incentives to be more efficient, (just like a business) BUT unlike a business that must have a profit to exist. The idea of a profit is foreign to governmental units.

IN REALITY, counties are the safety net for our citizens to fall back on when their businesses have problems or fail.

Another explanation comes from Rev. Bob Esbjornson’s book “A Christian in Politics”. The book was written in 1955. He states concerning the function of government or the state:

“The state is not a lord, but a SERVANT. It exists because the people need it. It serves to preserve order, to protect the clashing self-interests of society. By doing so, the state creates conditions which promote the welfare of the people.”

Reducing state aid does not raise property taxes
We often hear this statement from our state politicians. It is basically true. But there is more to this picture.Historically, the purpose of these state aids received by cities and counties is to offset the inabilities of local units of governments to provide basic services. The aids are meant to enable governmental units of all sizes to be able to provide basic services desired by all citizens. THIS IS THE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE STATE AND COUNTIES that has existed for decades.
Counties do the work of the state------- on the local level. The agreement is that funds will come from the state to help us carry out the mandates at the local level. When these aids are reduced, we have two choices.

1.Make up the difference with local property tax revenue.
2.Reduce discretionary spending. (Most people would suggest we take this route.)

What would our county look like if we kept reducing spending and/or eliminated programs? We might have roads that would be closed during extensive wet spells or heavy snowfalls. We might have no snow plows running on week ends. We might not have a 4-H or Extension program. We might not be prepared for emergency situations like floods. We might not be able to help our veterans access services. We might have fewer public health programs. We might have fewer road deputies. We might have fewer employees at the government center and longer waits at the windows. We might have fewer “open” hours at the government center.
Is this what we really want – so we can pay less in taxes? Up until now, commissioners have made the decisions to maintain our quality of life in Nicollet County. Granted, no one relishes paying taxes. But have you ever thought what life would be like if we did not pay taxes. What would it be like if we lived in a country where no one paid taxes?

Here is an example. Thomas Friedman, writing in “The World is Flat” talked about the countries that have an abundance of oil.
“They can use oil money to monopolize all the instruments of power---army, police, and intelligence---and never have to introduce real transparency or power sharing. All they have to do is capture and hold the oil tap. They never have to tax their people, so the relationship between ruler and ruled is highly distorted. Without taxation, there is no representation.”

OUR PROBLEMS CAN BE SOLVED. We can do it by working together in a spirit of compromise; putting the needs of the citizens first and personal agendas last; and by being statesmen instead of politicians.
I believe these qualities were lacking the past few months in St. Paul. end


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