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GAMC funding cuts will hurt rural hospitals

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opinion Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty forced the Legislature to retreat from two important Minnesota values: fairness and compassion.

General Assistance Medical Care, which cares for the poorest of the poor, embodies fairness and compassion. It pays for the health care of those who struggle to survive with serious illnesses and diseases. Without our help, most will suffer and some will die.

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Gov. Pawlenty wanted to eliminate this charitable program. To their credit, DFL legislators tried to salvage as much of it as the governor would allow. Their compromise, however, means that the state will essentially abandon the poorest of the poor to our hospital emergency rooms, without enough money to pay for their care. It will hurt hospitals everywhere, but it will be especially severe on those in rural Minnesota.

What kind of state would we be, without our hospitals? Why on earth would we want to do serious financial harm to them?

Minnesota's hospitals are the latest victims of the "St. Paul shifts," which dump the additional costs of essential services on them, on school districts, and on local governments. State government increasingly asks: "Who else can pay for this?"

Their answer last week was, unfortunately, rural hospitals and the communities that support them. According to the Minnesota Hospital Association, North County Health Service stands to lose millions of dollars as a result of the new GAMC bill. On top of this slash to rural health care, local governments are slated to lose hundreds of millions of dollars statewide as cuts to Local Government Aid go deeper. Bemidji alone stands to lose more than $730,000 in funding for critical services like police and fire.

I am running for governor to create "A Better Minnesota." A better state requires us to restore basic fairness to our tax system. In order to give rural hospitals, schools, cities, counties and townships the money they need to survive, we must require the richest Minnesotans to pay their fair share of taxes, and abandon our broken system that punishes the poor, the middle-class, and rural communities.

If I'm governor, the rich will pay their fair share of taxes. That's a Dayton's "money back" guarantee!

Mark Dayton is a former Democratic U.S. senator. He is running for the DFL nomination for governor.

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