Session shifts state priorities, creates opportunity for northern MN

The Minnesota state legislature adjourned late last night, passing the last of its necessary budget bills — all of which will be signed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D-MN). This is the first time in more than 20 years that our state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has held the House, Senate and governor’s mansion at the same time. Naturally, the budget they passed reflects a very different set of priorities than the one negotiated after last year’s state government shutdown.

The budget deficit found at the beginning of the year was balanced with a $2 billion increase in taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens and smokers. The so-called “school shift,” the accounting gimmick where public school districts had their payments delayed as a mechanism for balancing the budget’s of the last few bienniums was paid back in full. An historic new investment in K-12 and higher education was made. Legislators made additional investments in health and human services and other public projects. Local Government Aid and property tax relief were also passed, signaling a shift back toward an income-tax based government, not one that taxes on property regardless of owners’ incomes.
Locally on the Iron Range, a new minerals article in the tax bill will pay for several projects out of the region’s unique mining production taxes — money paid by mines in lieu of local property taxes. Most of these projects relate to renovation of aging community facilities. Itasca County got a particularly good haul, thanks in part to the presence Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township)* on the conference committee. The Reif Center, Greenway’s arena and several local fire departments will be able to proceed with plans to consolidate or renovate space. Several other projects on the central and eastern Mesabi were also green-lighted, with leadership from Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook). 
One disappointment was that with the failure of the bonding bill to attract enough GOP support, money that was to fund the Highway 53 relocation effort put in by Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) will have to wait another year.
State Republicans, in the traditional role of the minority party, are touring the state lamenting the budget. The DFL did a similar thing in recent years after Republican budgets were passed. The main GOP complaints have been the large tax increase and what they call “overreach” by the DFL government.
Much analysis has pointed to Republicans being glad to run against this DFL budget in the 2014 election. That might well be so. But much of their phrasing is based on a line of thinking more suited for a Republican primary. For the GOP to be successful in winning back the House in 2014 (the Senate isn’t up until 2016) they would have to count on independent voters who abandoned them last time agreeing that the session was an overreach. 
But the flip side of this is that the session might not have been an overreach. The DFL ran on property tax relief, taxing the wealthy, paying back the school shift and trying to freeze tuition at state universities. It appears they will have achieved all of those goals. Now, maybe it could be said that the voters didn’t know what they really wanted. Swing voters often move back and forth simply as a corrective force keeping both sides in check. But the DFL has a good argument that they did what they said they would do. 
Naturally, some have also suggested the Minnesota’s adoption of marriage equality could be an issue that sticks to vulnerable DFL incumbents, particularly in districts where last year’s gay marriage ban was popular (the ban failed statewide). My own gut tells me that social conservatives — good for about 37 percent of the vote — will remain motivated by this issue, but that in a year other voters will simply move on. I doubt the issue is even discussed much in 5 or ten years.
The DFL has a number of priorities — a higher minimum wage and a bonding bill — on tap for next year. Those two issues pose as many political hazards for Republicans as they do DFLers. It’s hard to say where exactly the voters will be in 2014. If the economy continues to improve, it could be argued they’ll be pretty happy with what they got and might be willing to swallow the parts they don’t like. 
As I’ve said before, success is not assured. Now it is up to education and local leaders to show that state investment can yield good things for people.

* As I always, I disclose that Tom Anzelc is a friend and I have run his legislative campaigns.


  1. Nice one there. For anyone in search of useful info on great and exclusive higher education in Nigeria, visit

  2. Aaron, unfortunately, the school shift has not been paid back. The Governor admitted on Almanac tonight that there is still over $850 million to pay back, and he is willing to have the next legislative session address the issue. Its still a real and structural deficit.

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