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Poor Families Stand Up to Right-Wing Attacks

by Deb Konechne |
September 1, 2005
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Protest sign: "Pawlenty, Give up!"
Lisa Warner of the Welfare Rights Committee leads a picket at Minnesota State Capitol, days before MN government shutdown. (Fight Back! News/Kim DeFranco)
Tiny tot with a very big sign.
This girl already understands how to solve the budget crisis facing Minnesota.

Saint Paul, MN - Low-income Minnesotans waged a powerful battle at the Minnesota state legislature this year that resulted in poor and working families making gains in healthcare and welfare. Organized by the Twin Cities-based Welfare Rights Committee, a movement of poor people kept up the heat from Jan. 4 - the opening day of the legislative session - through a government shut down and right up until the closing day, July 13.

Once again rich Minnesotans used their political influence to escape more taxes and shifted the burden of meeting the budget onto the backs of working people.

Under the Pawlenty governorship, poor Minnesota families have suffered three years of attacks from the right wing. Since 2003, Governor Pawlenty and Republicans in the House of Representatives spearheaded the largest welfare cuts in state history and massive cuts to healthcare and services for poor and working Minnesotans. The Welfare Rights Committee and its allies led the fightback to undo these devastating cuts. For the past three years, the Welfare Rights Committee has insisted politicians, “Stop all cuts to poor and working Minnesotans,” and that government should, “Tax the rich!”

“The Welfare Rights Committee pushed senators and representatives to sponsor legislation that closed corporate tax loopholes and used the money to undo some of the most disastrous cuts forced through by Pawlenty and Republicans,” explained Trishalla Bell of the Welfare Rights Committee.

Bell continued, “For two consecutive years, the ‘fund human need, not corporate greed’ bill passed through the entire Senate and forced the debate about who should pay for the state deficit. In addition, in this legislative session, Senate Democrats passed a tax bill to raise the income taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans. This is the position called for by the Welfare Rights Committee for the past three years. We had protests every tax day demanding they tax the rich and hung our massive huge banner in the rotunda while this was under debate.”

The 2005 legislative session resulted in significant restoration of some of the Pawlenty-Republican cuts of 2003. In addition, poor families fought back against more devastating cuts to welfare offered up by the House Republicans, with success.

“Poor and working Minnesotans won huge victories in healthcare and welfare,” stated WRC member Angel Buechner. “MNCare, the healthcare for low income working Minnesotans was preserved. The Republican plan to increase the MFIP [welfare for families] housing penalty fourfold was defeated. In MNCare, we saw the repeal of the life threatening $5000 cap. A terrible cut in monthly MFIP grants to families coping with disabilities was lessened. Co-pays for low-income families’ childcare will go down. The $500 cap on dental services for MNCare and Medical Assistance will be gone.”

“Beating back the right-wing attack is extremely significant in the current poor-bashing, reactionary climate we are in. However, our demand to make the rich pay for the budget deficit did not happen,” stated Kim DeFranco of WRC. “Minnesotans who will end up paying for these give-backs in healthcare, childcare, welfare and education will continue to be poor and working Minnesotans. The 75-cent cigarette tax and increased property taxes hit low-income Minnesotans the most.”

Meanwhile, corporations that are using a tax loophole to get out of paying Minnesota taxes by claiming to be ‘foreign operating’ will continue to cost the state of Minnesota over a hundred million dollars a year. Hutchinson Technologies is already lined up with a $200 million lawsuit to get money back from Minnesota for taxes paid that could fit within the loophole.

“The richest Minnesotans, who got massive tax breaks over the past few years - and who will continue to get these cuts under the 2005 budget - did not see one dime taken from their overflowing coffers,” said WRC’s Kim Hosmer.

“Undoing any cuts in this current right-wing climate is a huge victory, but it is still not enough,” Hosmer continued. “The battle to gain back services, healthcare and survival assistance for poor and working Minnesotans has just begun. The lines have been drawn for Pawlenty and his right-wing regime.”

WRC’s Linden Gawboy said, “We made sure to be at the capitol every time our issues came up. We don’t have money to buy off these politicians - we have to be there to make sure they don’t conveniently ‘forget’ about our issues. We force them to walk their marbled halls past women and children holding signs telling them what needed to be done. We protested, testified, dogged their meetings and met with some real slimy jerks. I hope we gave some of them nightmares for what they have been doing to people in this state.”

Tracy Furney added, “The Welfare Rights Committee is energized by our victory and ready for the next battle to undo every dime of cuts to poor and working Minnesotans. We have turned the corner in our fightback against the right wing, but this is still just the beginning. We are ready and willing to take on the richest in this state and the politicians who do their bidding.”

“Our demands remain the same,” stated Gillie Townsend of WRC, “We demand that the state close corporate tax loopholes, undo the permanent tax cuts and increase taxes on the rich. We demand that every cut to poor and working Minnesotans be undone. Hey politicians, here’s the fix! Tax the rich, tax the rich!”