The session, the shutdown, the malaise, and a secret plan

I hope you’ll forgive me for not spending much time analyzing the latter portion of Minnesota’s legislative session. To quote a character from Jon Hassler’s “Staggerford,” this year’s session “makes my ass tired.” In truth, I called it the day after the election with this tweet:

Aaron Brown@minnesotabrown Aaron Brown

MN voters seem to have found the one combination that will almost certainly shut down the state government. Kudos for style.
3 Nov
via web

I see it this way. You’ve got your new Republican majorities in the House and Senate. A lot of these folks were elected on a very specific message, that they would never, ever, ever raise taxes in any way that could be traced back to them directly. Most of them would qualify as small government types, holding the belief that reduced regulation and taxation will help the private sector grow, shrink the public sector and its related costs, etc. This group is tremendously powerful within the Republican caucuses and why wouldn’t they be? They won the majorities.

Then you’ve got your DFL House and Senate minority caucuses and Gov. Mark Dayton. Dayton was elected on an unabashed DFL progressive taxation budget platform which he delivered as promised, a nonstarter with the Republicans elected on the opposite platform. He believes, like most DFLers, that state government has an important role, that its services are often vital to people’s lives, that education spending is long term economic development and that a decade of tax cuts and funding shifts means we have to increase some tax revenue to balance the books.

Now, on one hand this seems simply to be a reverse of the previous four years, with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty standing against DFL majorities in the House and Senate, but it really isn’t. In that case the DFL legislature want to “do” all sorts of things, pass revenue enhancements, education proposals, shore up LGA, etc., even expanding health care coverage to more Minnesotans. This was what they got elected to. Pawlenty needed to “stop” the things the DFL was trying to “do.” The executive branch allows the ability to veto and the ability to tweak policies within the administration, all good ways to stop an active legislature.

In this case, the DFL governor wants to “do” things, while the GOP legislature wants to “stop.” This means that Gov. Dayton must not only convince one person like Tim Pawlenty to compromise on an ideological front, but several dozen, all of whom are still wearing the sleeves of their DFL opponents’ business suits as war trophies. Can it happen? Well, in theory maybe. If this were the ’50s, sure, but everyone’s jacked up now, requiring some help to break the logjam.

I think a lot of independents and centrists see a more balanced approach that includes some kind of revenue as a logical fallback, maybe Dayton’s new compromise, maybe something more innovative. But the GOP legislature will never pass anything like that unless they are able to save face somehow, or more likely get something — something DFLers really aren’t going to like.

How about give Rep. King Banaian (R-St. Cloud) his zero-based budgeting while reserving the right to revisit revenue to shore up something important to all the regions of the state? Fiscal conservatives would cheer the accountability and the ability to make more cuts should they get the governor’s office back. DFLers would get a more balanced revenue approach. We Iron Rangers could save our local mining revenue, which was unfairly raided in the current Republican budget. It’d be pure political horse trading, with deference to state services that are “life or death” such as health care. Get us through to the next election to see if the good people of Minnesota would clarify whatever the hell it is they actually want. (The answer, of course, being lower taxes and more services forever and ever and a pony)

Short of a deal, state workers like me should work extra hard on our gardens this week. We’re going to need them.


  1. Fact: Our state government spent $31.1 billion over the past two years.

    Fact: With no taxes increases, the projected state revenue over the next two years is forecasted to be $34 billion…by the non-partisan Minnesota Office of Budget & Management.

    GOP proposal:
    Budget and spend $34 billion over the next two years…an increase of almost 10% but equal to projected revenue increase. This would be the largest budget & spending in Minnesota’s history. No tax increase.

    DFL / Dayton proposal:
    Budget and spend $37 billion over the next two years…an increase of almost 20%. This would be by far the largest budget and spending in Minnesota’s history. Also, one of the largest percent increases in spending in Minnesota’s history. Taxes would increase to match this increased budget.

    Which proposal makes the most sense? you?…to the majority of Minnesotans?

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