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The elephant in the room

Even as a first-term state legislator, I've had my fair share of contributions to the budget process. I think about how to reinvest our $1.65 billion surplus back into our communities to give Minnesota families the chance to thrive in these uncertain times.

And yet ...

In every committee meeting, floor session and press conference, I am constantly struck by how little attention is given to the proverbial elephant in the room: President Trump's health care proposal will leave a gaping hole in our budget for years to come.

This is not hyperbole. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the current proposal in Washington would result in a $2.2 billion shortfall in the 2019 fiscal year alone and only get progressively worse in the future.

With a $1.65 billion surplus I believe we need to invest in education, make childcare more affordable and give targeted tax breaks to working families. Others want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Minnesotans.

This is a debate I look forward to having in the legislature, but does any of it really matter if we are going be hit with a $2.2 billion price tag from block-granting Medicaid? Surely we must be doing something to prepare for this seismic shift in federal funding.

Here's the cold truth: If block granting Medicaid becomes law and cuts off billions in federal funding, Minnesota legislators will face a simple choice: Raise your taxes or deny sick people health care. Neither of these are good options.

This is not an abstract debate. Real people across Minnesota will be denied a chance to build a better life for themselves and their families if Congressional Republicans allow their American Health Care Act (AHCA) to become law. And this is to say nothing of the 24 million people we know will lose their health insurance.

Last year I talked to thousands of people across Duluth about how my work at the legislature would help families live with dignity and joy. And I'm still committed to doing that by investing in E-12 education, funding critical infrastructure projects and supporting the MinnesotaCare Buy-In.

But my ability to fight for Duluth families is severely limited by the selective blinders many legislators have put on at the legislature.

I have genuine fear that the current majority in the House is not taking this budget problem seriously. After years of running a budget deficit, Minnesota is finally back to a budget surplus because of Gov. Dayton's steady leadership. But if we don't plan ahead for the impending collapse of our healthcare funding, real people are going to suffer.

My first priority is to convince our Congressional delegation to reject the AHCA and I hope you'll join me in that effort. But if they refuse, then the state legislature and Speaker Kurt Daudt need to prepare for the chaos that will ensue.

There's a better way of doing the people's work in Minnesota. I am hopeful we can come together to prepare for and push against the dangers looming at the federal level to protect the values and programs we stand for as Minnesotans.

Liz Olson

Liz Olson represents District 7B in the Minnesota House.