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Pioneer Editorial: The budget is the issue, lawmakers

The fact that the state of Minnesota faces a $6.2 billion state budget deficit in the next biennium was usually the first question asked during the campaign last fall. Now that the Republicans have taken over the House and Senate, the discussion is missing.

While waiting for Gov. Mark Dayton to submit his budget ideas early next month, you'd think the Legislature would be holding many hearings with state agencies -- to find out what they're about, what service they provide, can any be cut and what would happen if some were cut.

Instead, Republicans are pursuing their social and anti-government agenda. They're talking about state government shutdown, unraveling health care and a number of constitional amendment questions on same-sex marriage, abortion and photo ID.

"With 209,000 Minnesotans out of work and the state in fiscal crisis, we should not spend our time debating divisive social issues and constitutional amendments," Bemidji native Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, wrote to House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood.

"Putting social measures on the ballot will do nothing to get Minnesotans back to work, deliver the highest-quality education for our students, or improve Minnesota's quality of life. In fact, the partisan nature of these issues would do little more than inject divisive politics into the legislative process at a time when we should be doing the work Minnesota voters sent us here to accomplish."

The budget work is serious, and lawmakers should start their focus there. Minnesotans need jobs, which in turn will give the state higher tax revenue. But we fear not enough. And state agencies have seen cuts in each of the last eight years, what more is there to cut?

Raising taxes is a common sense option, if done right. But the Republican-led Legislature has said it won't be done at all.

These are tough questions that need to be addressed. The worst would be a mid-May standoff between the Legislature and Gov. Dayton, making prophecies of state government shutdown become real.

We'd like to see the Legislature make the best use of its time, and that time right now should be focused solely on the budget and the economy.