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What surveyed voters are telling Minnesota lawmakers

As legislators seek voters’ thoughts, they’re also trying to adjourn early — but my guess is they’ll go well into May.

Chuck Slocum

So far this year, the State Capitol political rhetoric has drawn some hard lines between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and his legislative allies and majority Republicans who control the House and Senate.

According to the state constitution, lawmakers must wind up their work by May 21.  Many insiders are talking of an April adjournment, however.  New legislative district lines have resulted in many on both sides of the aisle in support of an earlier adjournment to attend to local electioneering.

Ever so carefully, GOP and DFL lawmakers are surveying attitudes of voters who are bracing for the 2012 elections more than a half year away.  

Be careful about taxes

Here is what many Minnesota voters being surveyed, lawmakers and their staffs have confirmed, are saying to them:

  • Minnesota is still a pretty good state in which to live and work, but be careful about increasing taxes and growing the state budget as that’s where the disagreements can be profound.
  • Income and property taxes are the first two in line for “reforming,” with the sales tax more widely accepted; a slim majority in most surveys identify with “no new taxes” under any circumstances. 
  • With the surplus now available, lawmakers should begin to repay the K-12 education funding shifts used to balance the last couple of state budgets.
  • Current roadways and bridges should have priority for the transportation dollar, over commuter and light-rail projects under various stages of development.
  • A 2012 bonding proposal to support construction is backed by the public, but there is no clear direction on the exact amount to be spent and the funded priorities, thus providing little direction to divided policymakers on this subject.
  • Proposed voter ID and right-to-work constitutional amendments appear to have majority support but with little voter “passion” behind them. (By ignoring the issues on the November ballot, a voter’s choice is recorded as a “no” vote.)
  • There is strong interest, even if not an outright majority, in a new Vikings stadium, especially if the owners and fans who buy the tickets and merchandise pay the freight, but no agreement regarding various additional taxes.
  • Over half agree that the new federal health-care law now being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, ought to be redesigned.

Three more GOP goals

Majority Republicans say they want to achieve at least three more goals prior to adjournment:  the K-12 shift payback vetoed by Dayton, an omnibus tax bill, and a bonding package totaling around $500 million.  Governor Dayton would spend $275 million more in bonding to “get the state back to work.”

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I think the past is prologue to the future. The Minnesota Legislature does not often go home early through “sine die” adjournment.  The Legislature has adjourned in mid-May or later in each of the last 13 consecutive sessions and, I believe, will do so again.

Dayton; Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, GOP-Rochester; and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, GOP-Maple Grove, have their work as leaders being put to the test over the next weeks, to be sure.

Chuck Slocum (Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com) is president of The Williston Group, a 22-year-old management consulting organization.  A former state Senate staffer, he has worked on public-policy issues in various professional assignments.

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