Two weeks ago on KTCA’s “Almanac,” Norm Coleman didn’t answer the question of his political plans (he makes no secret that he’s thinking about jumping into the guv race, and his general demeanor in the interview convinced a lot of people that he will get in) but I was struck by one of his answers. The question by Eric Eskola was what Coleman would do to grow jobs in Minnesota. I’ll give you the full answer below, which is full of intriguing hints and maybe some contradictions. But the part that got my attention was this:
“We got a lot of smart people in Minnesota. If the Dems can come out of their corner, and stop talking about raising taxes, and our side sits in our corner, talking about not raising taxes. We could figure this out. Minnesotans are pretty smart.”
If you study it close enough, the statement has no precise meaning, except the non-controversial observations that Minnesotans are smart. But it certainly sounds like he is suggesting that Dems and Repubs have to come out of their corners and find common ground. In fact, reaching across the aisle to get things done has been has been a recurring theme in Coleman’s rhetoric over many years.
But when I first heard the statement, I wondered whether it would possible for a Republican to be nominated for governor who starts from the premise that Republicans have to come out of the no-new-taxes posture that has characterized at least the Pawlenty years.
Now, just to be precise, if you review the statement carefully, Coleman said only that the DEMS should come out of their corner. He described his own party as simply sitting in its corner without stating clearly that they need to come into the middle of the ring, where he’s already invited DFLers to come, and figure things out. But if he meant that Dems should come out of their corner while Repubs can stay in their corner, the statement makes little sense.
In my years covering him, I’ve noticed that Coleman is gifted at making statements that communicate flexibility without committing himself to particular policies. Perhaps because of that history, I thought I could see Coleman consciously avoiding stating what the statement in its entirely clearly implied: that both parties will have to compromise some of their preferences, including the Republican preference for no new taxes.
Over the last few days, I have left a couple of calls for Coleman and a message that I wanted to clarify what he said on “Almanac” about taxes. So far, I haven’t heard back. If he does, I’ll pass along his reply. If not, and if (as seems increasingly likely) he gets into the race, he will have to say more about where he stands on the Republican anti-tax gospel.
I did talk to former state Rep. Phil Krinkie, now leader of the Taxpayers League and a major preacher of that gospel. In a long conversation, he seemed to acknowledge that the looming state deficit is so large that everything will have to be on the table, but when I asked him to specify whether he thought the next budget could and should be balanced without any tax increases, he said yes, it could and should.
I called because I wondered how Krinkie reacted to Coleman’s statement (Krinkie, by coincidence, was a guest on the same episode of “Almanac,” on a different segment). Krinkie wasn’t troubled by the statement. He said Coleman had a strong record from his days as St. Paul mayor of promoting economic growth without taxes and he thought Republicans would judge Coleman more on that record than on something he might say one night on “Almanac.”
It could be that even the strongest anti-taxers know that tax hikes are coming, or it could be that Krinkie is part of what I take to be a growing group of Republicans who believe that they need Norm Coleman as the nominee.
For what it’s worth, the leading Repub candidates for guv are either calling for more tax cuts or possibly for trading some income and corporate tax cuts for an increase or a broadening of the state sales tax, which they prefer to term a tax on consumption. Marty Seifert’s website says he wants “to be about more than no new taxes.” Tom Emmer’s website says that “the answer to deficits is not more taxes, but less.” Pat Anderson favors “tax reform” before additional tax cuts can be considered. I take “reform” to be a switch from income taxes to sales taxes, which Anderson believes (and Krinkie made the same case) would create a more “stable” tax structure.
All of the DFL candidates candidates are proposing new taxes. Mark Dayton says his slogan is “Read my lips; tax the rich.” And all of the Dems have ideas for new spending and for Pawlenty unallotments that they would like to restore. Most of them don’t bring up the idea of additional spending cuts, but when you get in serious discussions with them, they know that new taxes will not be enough to balance the budget.
Lastly, I mentioned above that I would give you the full Coleman answer that got me started on this. You’ll note that in the first paragraph, before he told everyone to come out of their corners, he said that the first keys to job creation included no new taxes, at least not on small businesses. OK, the full exchange:
Eskola: What is your jobs program?
Coleman: First of all, do no harm is the first rule. Whether it’s more mandates on health, whether it’s new taxes, in other words those thing things that make it more difficult for small business, which is the jobs driver, to compete. You don’t do those things.
In addition I would say I don’t have all the answers, I’d sit down with Bob Bruininks, president of the University of Minnesota. I’d sit down with Don Gerhardt, who runs the Life Sciences Alley. I’d sit down with guys like Dick Anfang of organized labor [recently retired head of Minnesota State Building and Counstruction Trades Council].
We got a lot of smart people in Minnesota. If the Dems can come out of their corner, and stop talking about raising taxes, and our side sits in our corner, talking about not raising taxes. We could figure this out. Minnesotans are pretty smart.