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Published: Friday, 7/8/2011


Minnesota extremism

How far will Republican lawmakers go to protect millionaires? Those who think a default on the federal government's credit seems implausible should take a sobering look at the "closed" signs that are dotting Minnesota.

The Republican Party there readily shut down the state's government late last week by refusing to raise taxes on the 7,700 Minnesotans who make more than $1 million a year.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, campaigned for office last year promising to raise taxes on high earners. So it was no surprise when he proposed a tax increase on families that make more than $150,000 a year to help close a $5 billion budget gap. In negotiations with the Republican majority in the Legislature, he compromised and limited the increase to those making $1 million or more.

But Republicans refuse to consider any income tax increase. Like Republicans in Washington, they have the delusion that they can balance the budget entirely from spending cuts.

The governor proposed more than $2 billion in cuts, but refused to slash billions more from education, health care, and public safety programs. The Legislature also wanted new abortion restrictions and a voter identification law that Mr. Dayton had already vetoed.

When he said no, lawmakers allowed the fiscal year to end without a budget, and state government officially shut July 1. More than 40 state agencies have closed, including state parks. Courts and public safety agencies are operating, but essential services for the poor, such as food pantries and child care subsidies, have evaporated.

Many parents say they may have to quit their jobs if state-subsidized child care does not resume quickly. The shutdown will cost the state money, since many of the 22,000 laid-off workers will receive unemployment benefits and health insurance, while the treasury is unable to collect on tax audits, lottery tickets, and park fees.

As painful as the closure may become, the governor is right not to yield to the extremist ideology the Republicans are pursuing in St. Paul, Washington, and across the country.

President Obama has done so twice, and faces an emboldened opposition that is willing to create chaos in the credit markets rather than agree to modest revenue increases from the richest people. He urged everyone to leave ultimatums at the door in this week's talks, but the GOP has shown no willingness to do so.

Republicans' antitax radicalism, maintained at any cost, is doing enormous damage at all levels. It is preventing Wilmington, N.C., from buying a new fire truck, is preventing the most vulnerable in dozens of states from receiving subsistence benefits, and may engulf the economy if the standoff in Washington does not end.

In Minnesota, there is now a chance to draw a line and say: No further.

-- New York Times

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