Saturday, February 7, 2009

Minnesota's Budget: (A letter to my representatives)

(I have been a bit overwhelmed lately, what with trying to deal with my own healthcare issues, wanting to be more politically active, and being an employee and a parent. Part of me longs for a sharp focus for this blog, but I have to make every expenditure of energy serve more than one purpose. This is a copy of a letter I am sending to my state legislators.)

What an exciting and terrible time to be a policymaker and a US citizen! There is a feeling of possibility in the air, a sense that things can change for the better. At the same time, we are facing horrendous budget deficits and financial insecurity.

In November, I was inspired by a video produced by AARP to take a more active interest in public policy. I am not yet quite old enough to be an AARP member, but I have had multiple sclerosis for 27 years and recently started using an electric wheelchair. I also have a long history of volunteering and working for nonprofit organizations. I am currently working as Web Coordinator for the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

A recent Star Tribune editorial said that “Under Pawlenty’s approach, the burden of closing a $5 billion budget gap would be felt most keenly by the poor, the sick, the very young, renters, the noninstitutionalized elderly and disabled.” That would be me and the people I care about most.

My first steps in my new hobby of political activism have been to read the legislative priorities of groups who share my concerns The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and The Joint Religious Legislative Coalition to name two) and to subscribe to e-mail updates from them. To be frank, I have been feeling completely overwhelmed by the challenge facing us and the details to be wrangled. I can only imagine how you must feel.

The Organizing Apprenticeship Project and the Minnesota Budget Project helped me gain some clarity with their Kitchen Table Budget Principles. Their five principles include:

  1. Solve the challenges for the whole community. As you look at who will be impacted, make sure that we are all sharing both the benefits and pain.

  2. Include us in solving budget challenges. Before you make budget cuts or implement reforms, ask our communities what the impact might be, and solicit our ideas.

  3. Invest for the long run. We cannot undermine the core infrastructure —access to education, investments in children and families — that ensures opportunities to thrive.

  4. Look for additional resources. Reclaim our legacy by fairly raising the revenues needed to maintain core institutions that promote equity and the good life.

  5. Invest wisely on priorities. The way to spend wisely and avoid inequities is to ensure that policy choices do not disproportionately hurt low income people and people of color.

I encourage you to read the whole document and move forward with these principles in mind.

Because of my job, I was privileged to spend Thursday helping to prepare notes for our Executive Director, who testified in front of the higher education committee about the importance of the T.E.A.C.H. program, which helps child care providers to get a college education. Taking such direct action in support of a cause in which I believe was hugely satisfying.

I am pleased that a series of town meetings is planned to get citizen’s responses to the proposed Pawlenty budget. I will not be able to attend because of my physical energy level, but I wanted to let you know that I hope you will find ways to balance the budget that do not rely on sacrifices made by those of us who are already scraping to get by.

Thank you for all you do for the citizens of Minnesota.

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