Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #032. First published in the St. Cloud Times Mar. 23, 2010

“Funds cut for Civic Center” read the front-page headline in the Times a week ago. The subhead is similarly passive voice: “SCSU science lab money also eliminated”

I had heard the day before about the governor’s slash-and-burn campaign through the bonding bill, and was hoping the Times might fashion its own version of one of the most famous headlines in journalistic history.

On Oct. 30, 1975, the New York Daily News screamed: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.” The president had said “no” to federal help for the nearly bankrupt city. (Two months later he signed legislation guaranteeing loans to New York, loans that were eventually paid back with interest, but this is hardly remembered.)

“Pawlenty to city: Drop dead” would have been over the top, but it would have captured the essence of a political policy that has systematically disregarded both the obligation and the opportunity to invest in our state’s future.

St. Cloud, unlike New York 35 years ago, isn’t on the verge of bankruptcy, but the city, like many others in Minnesota, has been straitjacketed by this governor’s dogmatic insistence — reinforced by nearly unanimous votes of legislators of his party — that revenues never be increased, world without end, amen.

There’s a hymn that includes the line, “new occasions teach new duties.” Pawlentyism — espoused not only by the governor but by state Reps. Steve Gottwalt and Dan Severson and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann — proclaims that new occasions, old occasions, any occasions teach nothing other than no new taxes.

Turnabout for Kleis

Mayor Dave Kleis expressed “shock and disappointment” that his friend line-item vetoed both the $13 million for Civic Center expansion and the $42.3 million for a new St. Cloud State University science and engineering lab.

Money previously provided — half by the state, with Pawlenty’s support — for Civic Center site preparation means, the mayor said, that St. Cloud is left with “a $4 million pile of dirt.”

Since he became mayor, Kleis has learned that new occasions really do teach new duties.

I recall a visit I and several others paid to him in his state Senate office about six years ago to make the case for increased funding for education. He listened politely, then gave us a standard, by-the-book no new taxes response.

Closer to home these past five years, Kleis has seen, up close, the devastation wreaked on our common life by the dogma he once promoted.

Cuts to Local Government Aid, accompanied by the governor’s patronizing admonition to mayors and city councils to “be responsible,” have required not just belt-tightening but bloodletting.

And now the Legislature provides support for projects that are shovel-ready (read: jobs, immediately) and that have the potential to pay huge dividends — for example, conventions at the Civic Center; innovators in science and engineering taught in a state-of-the-art facility.

Moreover, these benefits would start to appear by the time the bonds are due. But the governor says we “can’t afford it,” and his way and the highway are, alas, the same way.

Focus on St. Cloud

St. Cloud doesn’t stand alone in “shock and disappointment.” We often think the Twin Cities get all the attention and pay us little heed, but a Star Tribune editorial Wednesday put the spotlight on us. “One cannot look at the list of 52 vetoed projects and not lament what might have been.  Infrastructure that today’s Minnesotans ought to build for the benefit of tomorrow’s was left behind.”  Then the editorial devotes almost 40 percent of its length to the “dream-dashing” the vetoes dealt to St. Cloud.

Perhaps the governor would say he is dashing not dreams but hallucinations. However, the Star Tribune suggests that the two vetoed projects in St. Cloud are rooted in a reality that is also part of Republican orthodoxy (and Democratic too, actually) — the projects are “probusiness.”

The Times headline on March 16 announced bad news, but missed the chance to pin the blame where it belongs. “Funds cut; money eliminated.” That didn’t “just happen.” Somebody cut the funds. Somebody eliminated the money. Kleis got it right: Pawlenty shocked and disappointed us.