Minnesotans voted for compromise and common sense. They rejected divisive conservative policies and focused on Minnesota's future. Let this be a guiding lesson to the state's new progressive majority: people want a balanced approach. Conservative legislative majorities put the interests of a wealthy few well ahead of Minnesota's interests.
In this electoral outcome, we can see two things. First, Minnesotans rejected the conservative plan. Second, Minnesotans want to move forward, not back. That should inform policymakers' agenda. Stated more simply, don't overreach. After more than a decade of conservative policy and budget dominance, it's going to be tempting to undo the damage quickly.
Don't take that bait. Minnesota in 2012 is different from the Minnesota of 2002, 1992 or even 1982. People rejected conservative extremism, preferring practical policy solutions to real, pressing public needs and challenges.
Conservatives lost their policymaking seats because they supported an extreme right-wing agenda that shut down state government, dumped bigger property tax burdens on local communities, forced severe cuts to critical Minnesota services, threatened to strip many worker protections, and divided the state over a discriminatory social issue.
Minnesotans don't like extremes; they want policymakers to focus on what matters. The next few months bring serious challenges. The progressive sweep won't erase an anticipated $1 billion budget deficit or repay the $2 billion dollars we still owe schools.
As progressive policymakers move forward, a balanced approach is necessary. We still need to pair progressive revenue increases with cuts to close the budget gap and pay back the education shifts. Restoring fiscal fairness and reversing more than a decade of property tax increases will require an honest and open dialogue with Minnesotans and among legislators.
While progressives will increase education funding, it will take time and cooperation among future legislatures to overcome a 13 percent state funding decline for K-12 education, and steep cuts to our state's colleges. Twelve-plus years of conservative-driven decline can't be reversed in one year or even two.
Here are some positive first steps the new progressive majority should tackle right away. Implement the state health care exchange already developed by the Dayton administration. If the November budget forecast reveals significant state bonding capacity, policymakers should quickly craft and pass a bonding bill, taking advantage of low interest rates and competitive construction bidding to put Minnesotans to work rebuilding vital public infrastructure.
After such a big political victory, a pragmatic policy approach might seem like a let-down. It's not. Moving Minnesota forward starts with filling in the conservative hole. It will take multiple legislatures to accomplish the progressive policy goals necessary to ensure that Minnesota remains strong and growing.