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COL Readers express views on budget

Minnesotans are deeply split about our budget challenges. Proof of this came through in the letters people sent me, responding to a recent column in which I recommended slightly higher income taxes for wealthy people, plus a one year freeze on salaries of public employees, including teachers. Asking everyone to help still makes sense to me.

Some letters strongly opposed increasing taxes. One person wrote "Oh please! Give me a break! Spoken like a true lefty redistributionist of income. Teachers are well paid. We have a spending problem, NOT a tax problem."

Another insisted, "One of the best features of this country is my ability to go out with an idea or talent and make a bunch of money (a living) off it. If we tax those making more money, it dampens the incentive to entrepreneur." This person suggested increasing sales taxes, arguing that it's better to tax what people spend, not what they earn.

A retired teacher opposed raising income taxes, arguing "we are a point in history where most people need to tighten their belts." She asked, "Do the schools really need swimming pools? We have become a wasteful society."

A fourth-grade teacher explained, "I can't argue with your proposal of freezing salary increases for teachers. These are difficult times.

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I do wish, though, that when we have multimillion dollar excesses we could get bigger increases. I don't see a lot of people clamoring to give us large pay raises when we had money spilling out of everywhere.3

One state employee described the last year as "a nightmare."

One of her co-workers resigned early in the year, and another co-worker died. She was given responsibilities of both people because of the state's hiring freeze. Meanwhile, her supervisor took maternity leave, then left "for greener pastures."

She suggests comparing teacher salary increases vs. state professional employee increases over the past 10-15 years. "Personally, there have been many days in the past year where the salary of a senior teacher in my (suburban) district and having some time off in the summer would have been nirvana."

She concluded: "I'm willing to participate in the budget solution. I believe that teachers should as well."

She recommended that the state extend the salary savings leave program, "so employees who are able to take time off without pay can do so, while sparing people like our secretary who can barely make it now."

Finally, two retired state legislators wrote to me. The DFLer said the ideas proposed were "just the thing educators and public employees need to hear." The Republican noted, "I have been saying exactly the same thing about freezing wages, but of course it will not be popular with one of the state's largest unions."

Your letters were fascinating. If you haven't done so, please write. (jnathan@hhh.umn.edu).

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My gut tells me it's fairest for all of us to help solve this problem, regardless of income, regardless of job.

Nathan is a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and director of the institute's Center for School Change.

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