Even with deficit, education and social programs are priorities

Opinion

When would be the best time to invite constituents to discuss bad economic times in a cold winter? Saturday mornings? Evenings? When Rep. Jim Davnie and I decided to meet with constituents in January, the temperature one evening dropped to negative 14 degrees. In times when the economy is struggling, our state is in deficit and so many people are losing their jobs, I wondered, “Who will show up to a town forum with their state representatives?”

In our district, many people showed up — people who wanted to make sure their state representatives will make public education and health care access priorities, even in the face of a serious budget deficit.

These gatherings reminded me of the reasons I moved to this community 15 years ago, and why I ran for office two years ago — neighbors and friends willing to gather on a cold evening to reaffirm their commitment to Minnesota’s heritage of progressive government that strives to meet the needs of the disadvantaged, the elderly and our young people. Despite tough economic times, residents of District 62 asked their representatives to stand firm in the face of pressure to cut social and education programs.

The reality is that our state faces a significant challenge, and, as lawmakers, we need to focus our attention on deep, painful budget cuts. We have a constitutional mandate to balance the state budget.

Unfortunately, cutting budgets this biennium will mean eliminating programs for the most vulnerable and reducing public education funding. More than two-thirds of our general fund budget goes to education (40 percent) and health and human services (28 percent). Within the Health and Human Service budget, 79 percent — nearly four-fifths — goes directly into long-term care and services for the mentally ill and the disabled.

Cutting programs is not a choice people are willing to support in District 62. Residents want to know, “What good is a balanced budget if it means eliminating public services and closing schools?”

You and your family are my top priority. In these challenging times, I want to make sure that your voice is being heard in the Minnesota Senate. We have to address a $5 billion deficit. What I hear from my constituents is that budget-balancing decisions should not make the recession worse for low-income families, laid-off workers and other vulnerable populations; and that the state should use a combination of budget balancing tools: raising revenue and cutting spending. I will take this message to the capitol and will strive to insure that the cuts we make don’t target education or services for our most vulnerable citizens.

Please feel free to contact me — by phone at 651-296-4274 or via email at sen.patricia.torres.ray@senate.mn — and check out the new senate website that solicits budget ideas from constituents.

last revised: January 29, 2009