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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Susan Gaertner, We Have No More Money

Saturday's Pioneer Press (12/6) included an article titled "State budget deficit puts youth programs at risk." Since this was at least the second article (the other was an editorial by DFLer John Marty, pleading for more money for shelters for domestic violence victims in the Shoreview Press) I've seen in the last couple days making a very tired argument, it seemed like a theme begging for a comment.

The PP article included this quote from Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner:
"These kinds of [youth intervention] programs don't necessarily produce instant results, but if you don't spend some of that money up front, you're going to end up spending a lot more money when those kids end up in the criminal justice system."
So the argument goes, if you don't pay now, you'll pay more later. But that's unproven speculation about the future, and here's a sure-fire way to spend a lot more money than the nominal cost of a program: pay for it with borrowed dollars. So as Minnesota faces a nearly $5 billion budget deficit--County Attorney Gaertner, members of our illustrious State legislature, mayors and city council members statewide, open up your ears:

We have no more money. In fact, we have NEGATIVE money, since we currently owe roughly the same amount as our annual national GDP (which is about $13.8 trillion) in consumer and mortgage loan obligations (said the Federal Reserve in 2007) alone. So if you added the federal debt, growing well past $10 trillion as I type, to the debt held by individuals and households in America, it's already clear--and we haven't talked about the debt you state and local-level bunglers have rung up--we are in NEGATIVE territory.

Police and fire services and the water system seem pretty non-negotiable. We ought still to be able to pay for these basics out of current revenues. But beyond that, citizens of Minnesota, the U.S., and in fact the entire world--start demanding that your governments pay for only what they have money in the coffers at the moment to pay for. Demand an end to paying for government activity through debt in whatever form, whether the machinations of the Federal Reserve or the sale of Treasury notes or the issuance of city bonds.

County Attorney Gaertner, if you can convince the citizens of Ramsey County to put such priority on youth intervention programs that they get paid for out of money we actually have on hand now--then you can have them. Otherwise, no matter what the supposed Return on Investment, we just don't have the money for them.


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