by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
The start of the new legislative session on Tuesday (Jan. 4) will have lawmakers colliding with a massive state budget deficit, and likely with each other.
Last election turned the power structure at the State Capitol on its head.
For the first time in almost 20 years, a Democratic governor — Gov.-elect Mark Dayton — will hold the reins of state government.
But rather than being greeted by a DFL-controlled Legislature, historic Republican gains last election means Dayton will be confronting a House and Senate solidly held by Republicans.
Overshadowing the session is a projected $6.2 billion state budget deficit — the use of federal stimulus dollars and the K-12 funding shift last session helped balance the outgoing state budget but lack of spending cuts has caused spending to jump, state forecasters note.
Proposes tax increases on wealthy
While Dayton looks to spending cuts, he also proposes tax increases on wealthier Minnesotans in order to balance the budget.
Dayton looks to rasing several billion dollars through tax increases.
Although Dayton took away a gift box of M & Ms from one of his meetings with Republican leaders in recent days, he did not specifically talk about taxes with Republican Senate Majority Leader-elect Amy Koch of Buffalo or Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers-Designate of Maple Grove, he said.
“I’ve learned the legislative session is a process. And it’s five months long for a reason,” said Dayton of hashing out differences.
But one key principle Republicans voice is that government must live within its means.
That means keeping state government growth within the additional $1.5 billion in revenue growth projected for the upcoming two-year spending cycle, Republicans insist.
“Job-killing tax increases is not the remedy for what ails us,” said Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, chairman-elect of Senate local government and elections committee.
“I will respectfully hear all of the governor’s proposals,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, House tax committee-elect chairman. “If you look at the makeup of the committee, it’s quite unrealistic this class warfare will pass,” said Davids.
Will respect all proposals
“I think even the governor gets that,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, of a tax increase proposal having a short life in the Legislature.
Dayton indicated a wait-and-see approach.
“At this point they’ll have to find $6.2 billion in spending cuts. And we’ll see how they fare doing so,” said Dayton.
Although Dayton and Republican leaders have suggested common ground exists in the area of streamlining the business permitting process — jobs, jobs, jobs is the rallying cry of all parties at the State Capitol — another high-profile difference is a possible bonding bill.
Dayton has proposed a $1 billion bonding bill as a jobs creation measure, but Republicans are leery.
“Adding another $1 billion on the debt is very concerning to us,” said Koch. Still, Koch said it was unwise to “shut the door” on discussions.
Delay in staffing by Dayton
Because of the gubernatorial election recount, Dayton was delayed in staffing his incoming administration.
You can’t really offer someone a job when you’re not positively in position to hire, he explained.
Dayton has spent literally every waking moment for three weeks interviewing job applicants, he explained.
“That’s proven to be impossible,” he said of assembling an administration prior to him taking the oath of office on Jan. 3.
Indeed, Dayton said he hasn’t had time to delve yet into the state budget — the new administration could present its proposed state budget as late as mid-February.
“It’s still my commitment and my goal,” Dayton said of making good a campaign promise to find significantly more money for K-12 education every years he’s governor.
Republicans have indicated that early in the session they could be taking up policy bills.
The first bills introduced in House and Senate tend to be symbolic, and Republicans suggest they’ll have to do with improving the state’s business climate.
“It may not be something as wildly crazy and sexy as you may expect,” Zellers quipped, noting House File 1 could deal with business permitting.
Keeping property taxes down
Besides making the state’s business climate friendlier and more stable, Republicans talk of reducing mandates on local government as a means of keeping property taxes down.
Local officials have complained that complying to such laws as open meeting laws drives up cost.
“I’m not sure we need a law that says that if you have three members of the city council sitting down at Perkins you’re violating open meeting law,” said Vandeveer.
One piece of legislation that could appear early is a lifting of the ban on nuclear power plant construction.
“It’s not intended to be provocative when we do those bills,” said Koch, who has championed getting rid of the ban.
Affordale energy good for business
Affordable energy is good for business, she said.
One issue less likely to spring to the forefront early session is a Vikings stadium bill.
Dayton has indicated he’ll look to the Legislature for a proposal — Republicans insist a stadium is not a top priority and that the pieces of a proposal are not in place anyway.
Both Zellers and Koch have indicated a willingness to work with Dayton — Koch said she expects to have a cordial relationship with Dayton and Lt. Gov.-elect Yvonne Prettner Solon.
“Maybe we don’t get to that spot,” Zellers said butting heads with the Dayton Administration.
But Michel spoke of “moments of collision.”
Republicans have indicated a willingness to reach out to House and Senate Democratic minrities.
They should, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, explained recently.
“Not to be critical of Republicans, but they haven’t been in the room putting a budget together — there’s a steep learning curve,” said Bakk.
“In the Senate there is a wealth of knowledge in the Democratic-side about putting a budget together,” he said.
“They (Republicans) would be wise to reach out to us for some suggestions on this — I don’t know if they will or not,” said Bakk.