The Relative Comment

soothing waves of relativity

A Harvest in the Park

with 4 comments

I do not mean to turn the focus of this blog solely to the proposed budget fixes of Minnesota’s GOP reps, but I cannot stop being amazed by the plans that are being proposed. Yesterday it was depleting dedicated funds, today it is harming one of, if not our greatest state asset, our state parks. I understand that Republicans are not interested in raising taxes. But is committing long term harm to state funding or to the state’s natural resources a better substitute?

MEP reports today on criticism the House is receiving over a proposed budget amendment that would open timber harvesting in two State Parks in Southern MN. “The amendment, passed by the Minnesota State House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, was added to an omnibus finance bill, and allows “black walnut and other timber resources suitable for harvest” to be logged in Frontenac State Park and Whitewater State Park.

The larger budget bill would also cut DNR funding. “The Minnesota House budget bill recommends cutting general state support for the state parks by 10 percent. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates they would have to close 10-14 state parks if the House’s proposed reductions were to become law.

I find this fix very difficult to understand. Not just because Minnesotans have time and again, and very clearly in 2008, declared their desire to protect Minnesota’s natural resources, parks, and waters, although that is a major part of why this does not make sense for Minnesota. What is even more difficult to understand, however, is the proposal that we would cut old growth forests that we have long ago decided to protect, because the state budget in 2011 is causing political danger. Think about the logic of this solution. We have real budget problems, but they are not insurmountable.  To solve a very temporary budget problem we are thinking of solutions that can not be undone.

Fifty years from now, in 2061, will Minnesotans look back on what is left of Frontenac State Park while birding in the fall and say: Yes, I’m glad they cut our old growth trees and took our parks away, so they could fix their 2011  budget, rather than making hard choices, compromising, and seeing the preservation of our lands.

I do not know that this budget amendment will last.  I would hope that it does not. But it has passed its way through committee, and has been included in the budget bill that will make its way to floor. This would be a tragic solution to a very short term problem.

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Written by Christopher ZF

March 25, 2011 at 12:29

4 Responses

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  1. Maybe these are the “hard choices” the state GOP intends to make. What hard choices would you make (i.e., what would you cut) if you were in power, assuming that raising taxes couldn’t solve the entire problem?

    Brandon

    March 25, 2011 at 12:53

  2. Maybe. And it’s a fair question about what to cut and honestly I don’t know.

    I will say that making hard choices, to me, means asking everyone to make sacrifices, and spreading the burden of sacrifice equally. For example, having the top earners in MN pay less of the tax burden, as we do now, and then asking lower income people to make more sacrifices is not fair. Cuts on services to low income folks are going to be made, that seems clear, but I don’t see that being spread to high income folks. The state GOP even agreed not to make cuts to suburban cities to avoid property tax hikes when the mayors complained, but still plan to make those cuts to Minneapolis and St. Paul, and indefensible plan regarding high and low income citizens. Solving these issues would be making the hard choices.

    Finally, opening timber harvesting on protected forests is not a hard choice. It’s a one-time solution that won’t solve the problem and once it is done it cannot be undone. Ever.

    czfinke

    March 25, 2011 at 15:05

  3. Oh, hi. I see you responded– thanks. I think you have a point about the temporary nature of opening timber harvesting. But you touch on another point that I’ve been thinking about some lately, given the dialogue within state politics.
    I agree that all should have to sacrifice (it promotes the ownership society ideal, and is part of the reason why I think federal taxation should be less progressive, since the top 1% pays 37% of all federal income taxes while only making 21% of the income, and the bottom 47% effectively pay nothing (outside of FICA)), and to whatever extent relative sacrifices are inequitable (whether favoring the rich or the poor or the middle class), we should change the law. But I can’t help but think that the point that high income taxpayers shoulder less of the tax burden is a bit of a cannard. From a dollar standpoint, that simply is not true. From a percentage of income standpoint, it is true (presumably), but the fact is not as significant as it’s made out to be. That’s because 1) our income tax rates are progressive, not regressive and 2) richer people tend to avail themselves of tax sudsidies, deductions, and credits more than poorer people do, which results in a lower percentage of income paid in taxes than poorer people. But as to 2), we have to understand that the government has ascribed a value to the behaviors entitling taxpayers to subsidies and write-offs. So, higher income earners are paying less money as a total percentage of income, but are also paying, through behavior, the value of the subsidy. The income tax paid plus the value of the behavior equal more, on a percentage of income standpoint, than income taxes paid by poorer people. No one ever mentions that people entitled to write-offs are undertaking costly and socially beneficial behaviors. Surely, that is worth something to the state. Indeed– that’s why they are in the tax code.
    Now, you can dispute whether certain behaviors are worth the tax benefits ascribed to them by government, but these considerations have to play a part in a fair and complete dialogue(not just income taxes). That said, personally (and I think a lot of conservatives/libertarians would agree), I’d like to see the end of all write-offs, credits, etc. for everyone, and a vastly simplified tax code, and then less progressive marginal rates. That would solve the “problem” of rich not paying their “fair share” from a percentage of income standpoint, and maybe we could move on to more important problems. But I’m just cynical enough to think that the primary purpose of the tax code is not to raise revenues, but to act as a agent of social engineering. So, I doubt this will happen.

    Brandon

    March 29, 2011 at 13:46

    • Your tax assessment is fair, though I’m not sure we will see eye-to-eye on the matter at any point. But I understand it and appreciate your thoughtful response. We certainly can agree that the tax code desperately needs to be simplified. To one of the points you make, it does seem too easy, to me, for wealthy individuals, and business (especially businesses) to avoid paying what they should pay due to loopholes and crafty lawyer work.

      On the point of the post, the amendment to open timber harvesting in the parks was not successfully included in the bill. Though the majority of DNR cuts did pass.

      czfinke

      March 29, 2011 at 18:17


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