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Commentary: Is 'Land of Welfare Opportunities' new state motto?

One third of the tax dollars you pay to the state of Minnesota go to various public assistance programs. That is five times more than the state taxes you pay for public safety efforts.

One third of the tax dollars you pay to the state of Minnesota go to various public assistance programs. That is five times more than the state taxes you pay for public safety efforts.

Minnesota collected $1,559 more in state taxes on average from each person than South Dakota took from the average person in that state.

People paid $1,020 less than you for state taxes in Iowa, $590 less in Wisconsin, and $535 less in North Dakota.

Many of the extra tax dollars you pay go to generous welfare programs that draw "welfare pioneers" to Minnesota. Sadly, the Democrats are trying to make Minnesota into an even bigger welfare magnet.

Every month, about 10 percent of the people who apply for Minnesota welfare benefits have moved here from other states or countries. While some Minnesota-born people may need help from welfare programs for a short time, most quickly move back into jobs and independence.

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But the newcomers to Minnesota tend to stay on programs much longer.

Over the last six years, about 30 percent of Minnesota welfare recipients have moved to Minnesota within the last five years. That is three times the average monthly welfare sign-up rate for newcomers.

It is crucial to hold the line on welfare programs to keep Minnesota from becoming an even bigger welfare magnet. The Health and Human Services programs account for 29 percent of the state budget. That is $9.5 billion of spending, or $4,700 per taxpayer. If these programs are not held in check, they could eat the whole budget in a few years.

House Democrats have approved legislation to increase the health and welfare budgets by 19.7 percent in the next budget, and by a staggering 41.7 percent in 2010-11.

We cannot afford that kind of growth in welfare programs in the future.

No one can question that work is important for a person's feeling of self-worth. But Democrats have proposed to eliminate or weaken many "welfare to work" requirements that prod welfare recipients who can work to seek employment every week and find jobs in a reasonable period of time. If Democrats succeed in weakening the work-for-welfare rules, Minnesota will face $26 million in federal fines.

Incredibly, Democrats are even seeking to waive the "job search" requirement for the first year that immigrants are in America. Our message should be, "if you move to Minnesota, be ready to work." It should not be "welcome to our state, put up your feet and enjoy the benefits."

Another area where Democrats are inviting massive federal fines rests in opening the door to more welfare recipients with higher eligibility standards while reducing the work requirements for thousands of beneficiaries.

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We already have 37,000 families on MFIP (cash and food benefits), another 87,000 families on Food Support alone, plus 15,400 people on General Assistance (cash for adults without children in the house), and 28,840 people on Minnesota Supplemental Aid. We need more taxpayers to pull the government wagon, not more people riding in it.

The Democrats also oppose the governor's requests to increase penalties for welfare abuse, such as shortening the six-month "grace period" between the time a discrepancy is discovered and benefits are cut off. That would affect about 300 recipients per month.

The governor will have to veto the Democrats' plan to increase human services and health programs by 41.7 percent in 2010, both because our society cannot sustain such growth in government and because it is not good to discourage work. House Republicans will support this common sense, fiscally responsible approach. We will sustain the governor's veto.

We owe it to the taxpayers and the welfare recipients to make sure that these programs are well managed and encourage people to break the cycle of despair and dependence on government. Self worth, a good work ethic and fiscal responsibility may be "old-fashioned" terms but they are valid values in which we should model our public assistance programs.

Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, is minority leader in the Minnesota House.

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