THUMBS DOWN: President Obama's plan to shrink the deficit by $4 trillion in the next decade contains plenty of interesting pieces, some of which will be felt by Minnesotans - and not in a good way. The proposed budget would cut farm payments by more than $30 billion during the next 10 years and would include more than $260 billion in Medicare cuts. Obama also claims somewhere around $850 billion in savings from ending the wars and says a portion of that money could be used for transportation. Problem is, the government borrowed money to pay for the wars and would have to continue to borrow that amount of money to have it to spend on highways. That's more debt and a typical budget gimmick similar to what we see take shape on both sides of the aisle and at both the state and national levels all the time. Obama's budget plan also includes tax increases for the wealthy - an idea we can support but one we know Republicans won't go for. He knows that, too, and that gives us the impression that that idea is nothing more than the president pitching his campaign platform nine months before the election.
THUMBS DOWN: Our elected officials - namely, in this case, Republican Rep. Chris Swedzinski of Ghent - need to keep a close eye on what's going on in the city of Minneota, which is contemplating cutting the Minneota Police force to one full-time position. Talk to any legislator and they'll tell you cities, large and small alike, need to be able to hold on to their core essential services - fire, safety, police protection - and that's become more difficult to do with cuts in Local Government Aid. Cities and counties are feeling the pressure of a lack of state funding during the last few years and things will only get worse unless a solution to future deficit problems involves something other than cuts to LGA. Our state policymakers must find ways to avoid plugging deficit holes with money that should be going to rural communities.
Watching out for veterans
THUMBS UP: With some 2,700 Minnesota National Guard troops due to return this spring, it's vital the state works to prepare for their homecoming and do what it can to have jobs waiting for them. It looks like the state is serious about doing just that. Legislation being considered at the state Capitol would give employers tax credits for hiring or rehiring veterans, permit a hiring preference for veterans and set aside contracts for veteran-owned businesses. These are positive steps, but we fear they might not come to fruition in light of a tight state budget. That would be a shame, to say the least. Being a member of the National Guard surely isn't what it used to be - today's Guardsmen are hardly "weekend warriors," as they used to be referred to. They're involved in sometimes life-threatening missions overseas and have sacrificed years away from their families; their lives have been completely altered, and the state must do everything in its power to offer them a smooth transition when they come back home.
THUMBS UP: Hats off to Lincoln HI coach Greg Gile, who has been named Minnesota Golf Coach of the Year. This non-stop leader is the true epitome of a mentor - through coaching basketball, volleyball, golf, and cross country, he has not only taught kids about sports and fundamentals, he has helped shape hundreds of young lives. The Lincoln HI School District should be grateful it has a man like Gile on its staff. Gile was rewarded by the state this year mostly for the success his golf team had on the links - a section title and fifth-place finish at the Class A state tournament - but what he has done for 40-plus years at the school and for all those students goes far beyond anything you can display in a trophy case.