Protesters flooded Minnesota’s Capitol grounds yesterday on the eve of a government shutdown in response to tense budget negotiations. The governor and Republicans must close a $5 billion gap for the next two-year budget cycle, but legislators are torn over how to accomplish that goal.
Though government officials and Governor Mark Dayton have kept the details of the negotiations largely secret, Minnesotans were quite vocal in their demands. Activists stated that they’re open to compromise, but don’t think the burden of the state’s budget woes should be dumped exclusively upon the shoulders of the poor.
"An all cuts budget would be devastating, what we need now is compromise so that we can move forward and continue to make our state better,” [said LeAnn Wallace].
Early today, the government of Minnesota officially shut down, leaving 20,000 Minnesotans out of work and others without statewide services. However, before the shutdown began, the state’s residents had already begun to see the effects of a statewide shutdown.
Motorists hoping to stop for a bathroom break were beginning to see "closed" signs on rest areas, and camping enthusiasts were being kicked out of state parks, which all closed at 4 p.m. Nonprofit organizations rushed to make last-minute decisions on whether to get financial help or curtail services….
At the morning rally, nonprofit groups urged a budget solution that would tax wealthy Minnesotans. Mary Cecconi of Parents United said that while leaders have promised to limit cuts to education, other state-funded programs are important for Minnesota children, too.
"If you’re trying to help kids grow up to be productive citizens who will seed the economy, they don’t grow up in a vacuum," Cecconi said. "To succeed in school, they need healthy families and communities supporting them.”
Minnesota isn’t the only state currently facing a government shutdown. Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) and Democrats fought over funding for abortion at University of Iowa hospitals, a disagreement that put the overall budget in jeopardy. Additionally, New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie threatened to veto Democratic lawmakers’ budget.
Even in states where a budget compromise was successfully struck, citizens still face grave cuts. In an analysis of Wisconsin’s state plan, the AP documents several ways the new budget will reshape priorities at the detriment of the poor.
Among the changes, poor families with two or more children will see their tax credits reduced. Overall, the tax credits for poor families in Wisconsin will be reduced by $65 million over the next two years.
Meanwhile, life for business owners will get a little easier. The budget creates a new capital gains tax deferral for investments in Wisconsin-based companies, loosens taxes charged to multistate corporations, and creates a new tax credit for manufacturers and agricultural businesses.
Medicaid will get more expensive, since the new budget cuts $500 million from healthcare programs, and citizens will face higher co-pays and deductibles. The budget also allows the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents to increase tuition by up to 5.5 percent beginning with the fall semester, a move that will price many poorer students out of an education.
And that’s just scratching the surface. The full consequences of the cuts will be ubiquitous and devastating for millions of residents, and the aftermath of austerity in Wisconsin is really a microcosm of the larger national trend of state legislators asking the poor to shoulder the burden of budget cuts.
Currently, it seems like state governments operate in one of two modes: paralysis or aggressive punishment of the poor.