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Minnesota Poor Say: ‘Tax the Rich’

by Kim DeFranco |
April 2, 2004
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Protest on capitol steps
Protesters at State Capitol demand reversal of welfare cuts. (Fight Back! News/Kim DeFranco)
Protest on capitol steps
Support is growing for laws to tax the rich.

St. Paul, MN - “Fund human needs, not corporate greed! What side do you stand on?” said Angel Buechner of the Welfare Rights Committee at a press conference in front of Governor Pawlenty’s office at their March 15 People’s Lobby Day. This has been the battle cry of the WRC and their supporters since the 2004 Minnesota legislative session began in February. A clear line of demarcation has been drawn between the greed of the tax-evading corporations and the state’s poor and working families.

Buechner continued, “These right-wing Republicans are trying to bleed us even more. It is clear to us that Governor Pawlenty and his band of thieves at the capitol are carrying out outright robbery of Minnesota.”

Last year, over $2 billion of the $4 billion state budget deficit was made up for from the Health and Human Services budget. House of Representatives Republicans and Governor Pawlenty carried out the largest cuts to welfare in the state’s history and cut health care benefits to tens of thousands of Minnesotans.

Now they want to cut even more from health and human services.

“It seems that every time there is a budget shortfall, the first place Pawlenty goes to get money is from the children, from the poor, from those with serious illness, from people with disabilities and from the elderly! Does this man have no shame?” asked Trishalla Bell, Minneapolis member of WRC. “Since Pawlenty took office, homelessness, hunger, poverty and suffering have skyrocketed in this state.”

This year, the Welfare Rights Committee seized the opportunity to undo some of the worst damage done last session. They got two high-ranking Democrat Senators, Linda Berglin and Larry Pogemiller, to sponsor Senate Files 1991 and 1992. The bills get money to undo the cuts from two places - using an unexpected $13 million welfare bonus from the federal government and by closing corporate tax loopholes.

The largest corporate tax loophole addressed is one where Minnesota corporations get out of paying Minnesota taxes because they claim to be operating from out of state or out of the country - costing the state $54 million per year.

“Enough is enough! We are sick and tired of politicians who steal from the poor in order to protect tax breaks for the rich. We are sick and tired of a heartless, cruel governor attacking those of us with the least! Instead of cutting from our needed health care and services, Pawlenty and company should tax the rich. We say undo the cuts to poor and working Minnesotans! Make those with the most ability to pay, pay the most,” demands WRC member Tracey Furney of Crystal, MN.

“Minnesota corporations are getting out of paying millions of dollars while families in Minnesota are being asked to suffer even more. These corporations with sham ‘foreign operating’ status are costing the state tens of millions in tax dollars every year - this money should be used for the real needs of the people of Minnesota,” states Linden Gawboy of the WRC. “The bill also gets rid of a way for the wealthy to sneak out of paying taxes by claiming to live out of state.”

Undoing the Cuts

Senate File 1991 and its House companion bill 2108 will undo cuts in three areas. In MFIP (Minnesota’s welfare program for families with children), it repeals a $125 per month cut imposed on families who have a disabled family member on SSI living with them. The MFIP monthly grant is cut $125 per month for each disabled person in the household. The bill also repeals a $50 per month MFIP grant cut to families in subsidized housing.

Second, the bill will repeal a law passed last year that puts liens on the farms, businesses and homes of elderly people who become seriously ill and need to use Medical Assistance or want to use home services to stay out of nursing homes. The liens mean that the state could seize their property to ‘pay back’ the state, even though these elders have been paying taxes all their life.

Third, the bill undoes a massive fee increase imposed last year on families who need services for kids with severe disabilities.

“When politicians say that there just isn’t enough money to meet the needs of Minnesota children, elderly and poor, or that there just isn’t enough money to continue health care and give cost of living raises for the workers of Minnesota, don’t believe the hype. There is plenty of money to go around, if they just decide that poor and working Minnesotans are worth as much as the rich and wealthy corporations in this state,” says WRC’s Deb Konechne of St. Paul.

The Welfare Rights Committee’s bills passed the full Senate on April 7. It is now part of a package that will be put up against the House and governor’s proposals. As Fight Back! goes to press, the WRC is preparing for a big April 15 protest to demand that lawmakers undo the cuts and tax the rich.

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