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A closer look at what Emmer says about cutting the budget

Rep. Tom Emmer
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Emmer says wants to take on a larger and more enduring challenge, to permanently reduce the size and scope of state government in Minnesota.

Good Friday Morning Fellow Seekers of Wisdom and Truth,

I’ve gotten some pushback about Tuesday’s post on the new EmmerTruth feature on the campaign website of repub guv candidate Tom Emmer. The pushback has come from conservative blogs (see here and here, for example) and from Team Emmer itself (this was a phone conversation, complaining about the inaccuracy/unfairness of my piece).

I’m trying to bend over backwards to take the complaints seriously. I rant a good bit about the twin problems of selective perception and confirmation bias. I worry about these demons in myself, as well as homo sapiens in general. (Not so worried about it other species, but will start worrying about it if get time.)

It’s a struggle to get past the demons. One helpful technique, when hearing from people with whom one disagrees, is listen, not just in hopes of knocking down what they say but with one’s mind open to the possibility that they know something you don’t know, something from which you can learn and/or some areas of relative agreement on which you can seek common ground.

This may sound kinda twinky or kumbaya or whatnot. But I believe in it pretty strongly both as a way to reduce the angry polarization of politics and, secondarily, as part of what journalism needs to substitute for the spent force of the phony objectivity paradigm

Although I constantly fall short, I try to practice this here. The idea of Tom Emmer as governor makes me a tad nervous, but I want Emmer supporters to come to Black Ink with a reasonable expectation that their best facts and arguments will be treated fairly and respectfully here. I’m trying to do it in this EmmerTruth matter, but it isn’t going so well because the harder I squint at those facts and arguments, the weaker they seem. Several problems with the first edition of EmmerTruth that I missed the first time through have come to light.

The truth-seekers on EmmerTruth and in these Emmer-friendly blogs don’t seem to be truth-seeking or truth-telling about Emmer’s plans or his statements.  They seem to be trying to delegitimize, on bias charges, efforts to find out Emmer’s budget plans when, to be blunt about it, Emmer could just tell us instead of making us guess and then acting annoyed when he doesn’t like the guesses.

The most pressing job facing the next governor will be to work with the Legislature to balance the next biennial state budget, which will start with a projected deficit of $5 billion to $9 billion, depending on how you do the numbers. No one should get your vote for governor without telling you their plan for tackling that challenge.

Fair expectations and accurate facts
Emmer says wants to take on a larger and more enduring challenge, to permanently reduce the size and scope of state (also city and county) government in Minnesota. But he has not been forthcoming about either how he will balance the budget in his first biennium, nor what this longer-term downsized Minnesota government will look like. He’s going to continue to get criticized until he puts out a plan. I think this is entirely justifiable. But the criticism should be based on fair expectations and accurate facts.

One of the complaints that he has made and others make on his behalf is that other candidates also have not specified their taxing and spending and cutting plans and they don’t get as much grief from the mainstream media, presumably because it is the liberal mainstream media and because it is more inclined to pick up on DFL talking points.

The DFL has been putting out a press release every week or so for more than a month demanding to know where Emmer’s budget plan is.  Just based on the ones that I haven’t spiked out of my email account, I count four such press releases, since May 10. But not even Emmer — and not I — can expect the DFL to be even-handed across party lines in criticizing candidates. Sad but true.

On the other hand, most of the media coverage of Emmer’s planlessness seemed to derive from Emmer’s June 10 hour-long filibuster on MPR’s “Midmorning” show in which he declined to specify a single dollar’s worth of concrete deficit reduction proposals. I transcribed one of his long answers here.

I’m willing to predict that if the other guv candidates, including the three DFLers, go on ”Midmorning,” Kerri Miller will ask them similar questions, and then we’ll see, both whether they answer, whether she presses them as hard and, if they filibuster, whether the rest of the media hold them accountable.

The Star Tribune editorial page did a fine service by asking the five major guv candidates for a written statement of their budget plans, and they published all five. You can access all five statements from this summary editorial.  Speaking in their role as institutional voice of the Strib (that institutional voice gag always cracks me up), the editorial writers gave the prize to Mark Dayton and Tom Horner for having the most specific, concrete ideas (although they certainly haven’t put out a full plan for eliminating the deficit. Emmer, Margaret Kelliher Anderson and Matt Entenza flunked the test, according to the Stribbers.

If you read the Emmer response to the Strib’s inquiry, you will not find a single dollar’s worth of specific deficit reduction proposals.  Emmer does endorse redesigning government and reducing the state government work force, but without any specific proposals. He comes out for unspecified tax cuts which, unless you believe in the self-funding tax cut theory, will presumably add to the deficit.

Perhaps there is some truth and justice to the Emmer complaint that he is getting more grief for not having a plan. But does he really want to make a stand on this complaint, rather than just start to specify how he will balance the budget, or maybe even commit to a date, sooner rather than later, when he will put out a plan?

On the morning Emmer announced his current listening tour — which is his stated reason for not putting out a plan, because he has to listen first — I asked him when he would have listened enough to put out a plan. He evaded the question so I asked him again. The second time he specified that he was going to remain “evasive” on that for now. I guess I’ll give him a weird kind of candor point for admitting that he was being evasive, but how far can he take this? “Emmer: Honest enough to tell you that he won’t tell you.”

Dustup over interview
Which brings us finally back to the specific complaint that provoked the first EmmerTruth rebuttal.

In April, when he was still running against Marty Seifert for the Repub endorsement, Emmer made a joint (with Seifert) appearance on MPR’s “Midday” show with host Gary Eichten, and Eichten pressed him about how much he wanted to downsize state government. The political context was different then. To lock up the Repub endorsement, Emmer was positioned as the more radical of the two Republican downsizers. He gave Eichten some answers that he doesn’t seem anxious to repeat now that he is the endorsee and is targeting swing voters.

Late last week, after the dustup over the Kerri Miller interview, MPR reporter Tom Scheck tried to write a piece shedding some light on Emmer’s budget ideas. He relied on that earlier Eichten interview to state that Emmer has “suggested he could eliminate a third of overall state spending, roughly $20 billion.”

In the EmmerTruth knockdown of Scheck’s piece, the first sentence of the section titled “Fact” states:

“Tom Emmer has never said he will cut $20 billion from the state budget.”

Either Scheck or EmmerTruth must be stating something other than a fact.

Here’s a section of the transcript of the Emmer-Eichten interview, (and I should point out that this transcription comes from the EmmerTruth piece itself).

Eichten: I understand that this is a little bit of an unfair question – let’s say for purposes of discussion, the state has a biennial budget of $30 billion (plus or minus). If you could wave a wand today, what should be the size of the state budget?

Emmer: Yeah, if you want a number, you’re using the general fund number Gary — the total number with dedicated funds is closer to $60 billion and I think really, if we’re going to compare ourselves with what it’s supposed to be.

[EB butting in here. I note that when Gov. Tim Pawlenty prepared his own analysis of how he had held down state spending, which I dissected here, Pawlenty used the General Fund $30 billion category. He and Emmer should get together on the best way to measure state spending. OK, back to the Eichten-Emmer transcript.]

Eichten: Well let’s stick with the $30 billion – that’s the number that’s usually talked about.

Emmer: Well, no I’m going to tell you that the overall budget should probably be around $40 billion. Once you get done, and I’m talking out of that $60 billion –

Eichten: So eliminate about a third of what the state is spending?

Emmer: Actually, you can absolutely start – but you can’t just talk about the state, Gary – you’ve also got to talk about a county level and a city level, the local level. But yes, I believe you can reduce government easily by 20 percent in the next four years – easily.”

OK, Emmer said that the overall state budget, which is now in the $60 billion range, “should probably be around $40 billion.”

But “Tom Emmer has never said he will cut $20 billion from the state budget?” How can that be?

EmmerTruth has three objections. The first one, which I dealt with in my previous piece, is that Emmer didn’t say he would cut $20 billion, only that state spending ought to be about $20 billion less than it is now.

From EmmerTruth: “Emmer was talking about what was possible, not making a campaign promise. That’s why he used the words ‘can reduce’ not ‘will reduce.’”

Even if this were accurate, it would be a pitiful case of word-splitting. But it’s also not true that Scheck said that Emmer “will” reduce state spending. He said: “Emmer has “suggested he could eliminate a third of overall state spending, roughly $20 billion.” So even on a word-splitting basis, EmmerTruth’s objection borders on untruth.

The second objections, which I didn’t discuss in my previous piece, is that Emmer, two sentences after saying that state spending “should probably be” $20 billion lower than it is now, said:

I believe you can reduce government easily by 20 percent in the next four years – easily.”

Twenty percent off of $60 billion would not be a $20 billion cut, it would be a $12 billion cut.

So, according to EmmerTruth:

“Emmer did initially say the overall budget should be around $40 billion, down from the current level of $60 billion. [In other words, Tom Emmer, who “has never said he will cut $20 billion from the state budget,” did say that the budget “should” be $20 billion less than it is now — EB]

EmmerTruth continues:

“But seconds later [Emmer] clarified with the definitive statement that we ‘can reduce government easily by 20% in the next four years.’ When Scheck chose to use the $20 billion figure instead of the more definitive final word on the question, he made a critical and material journalistic mistake.

‘Definitive’ figures
Decide for yourself how critical and material Scheck’s mistake was. Ask yourself if Emmer bears any responsibility for using two different figures in the span of about 10 seconds. Ask yourself what makes the second of the figures “definitive.”

Blogger Mitch Berg of “Shot in the Dark” and of “The Patriot” radio station (and whom I know and like, and who has had me on his radio show, and who is one of the bloggers who took me to task for my previous EmmerTruth piece) took a shot at explaining why the second figure is the definitive one. It’s the nature of radio, which an ol’ ink-stained wretch like me wouldn’t understand. Wrote Berg, of what live radio is like:

“Every so often you say something on the first try that isn’t quite right.  So you take another pass at it.   This happens even if you’re very good at speaking off the cuff — which, by the way, Tom Emmer is.”

OK, Mitch would be the expert on that. Where I come from, if you want to take something back, you say “let me take that back. I said something I didn’t mean. Here’s what I’m trying to say.” You don’t just change numbers and roll on and then deny you ever said the first one.

On the other hand, especially since Emmer is so good at speaking off the cuff, go back and look carefully at the definitive second statement (this is the trouble with me deciding to go over the whole thing and see if I was unfair the first time). Note that Emmer’s 20 percent statement wasn’t about “state government,” which the first statement clearly was. Emmer decided to introduce the possibility of reducing county and municipal government as well.

I actually have no idea how many levels of government Emmer had in mind with his 20 percent statement and I have no idea if he had any idea. But he could have meant that state and local governments combined could be reduced by 20 percent and the share of that represented by state government could be $20 billion.

Scheck’s critical and material journalistic mistake was to quote, accurately, something that Emmer said about state government, which is the level of government that Emmer is a candidate to lead.

EmmerTruth’s third objection is that, if you go back to the transcript, in the second, definitive statement, Emmer said he would — well, not that he would, but that “you can” — cut (some level of government) spending by 20 percent over four years.

Scheck didn’t mention the four-year time frame. He’ll have to answer for that on judgment day. I can’t say I grasp exactly why it’s that big a deal. In fact, if there’s a way to save that much state (or county or municipal) money without causing unacceptable levels of suffering or other dire consequences, I would say get it done sooner rather than later.

OK, I’ve gone on too long and am beginning to get too sarcastic. I’ll just close by observing that rather than cry foul and read intent into Scheck’s word choices, Emmer could, if he chose, clear the whole thing up by specifying how he plans to balance the budget, and then how he plans to downsize government, and how much of that downsizing would be subtracted from the current share of government dollars spent by the state and how much by other units. That would shut me, and I suspect Scheck, up right quick.

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/18/2010 - 10:36 am.

    One of Emmer’s defenses is that while he hasn’t provided a plan, his potential opponents haven’t either. What this is, is another example of Tom Emmer, the extremely capable trial attorney, twisting an issue ever so slightly to his advantage. At this point, what we need and what Emmer was asked for wasn’t a detailed plan of any sort, suitable for entombment in one of the more obscure regions of his website. What he was being asked for, was for something more specific, on the seemingly outlandish statements he has made.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/18/2010 - 11:07 am.

    “Scheck didn’t mention the four-year time frame. He’ll have to answer for that on judgment day. I can’t say I grasp exactly why it’s that big a deal.”

    Eric, if you can say that you see cutting $20 Bil, or 20%, take your pick, over a 4 year period as essentially the same as doing it in a single year, and keep a straight face, Robert Gibbs should be worried.

    Deciding to go over the whole thing and see if you were unfair the first time is a useless exercise if you are incapable, or unwilling to be aware of, and accountable for your own pre-dispositions and bias.

    Look. After completion of the Democrat primary, I’ll be right with you demanding specifics; but until then, Emmer would be displaying decidedly poor decision making to provide anything useful to the leftist mob that is shadowing him right now.

    While we wait, how about a nice piece on Dayton’s tax the rich plan? Does he not understand the limitations (read guaranteed FAIL) of relying on taxing 10% of the population to cover the tab for the remaining 90%?

  3. Submitted by Bill Gilles on 06/18/2010 - 11:09 am.

    I had now idea that Kerri Miller had such sway over MN journalists, or EB in particular. It’s good to know that a candidate for Governor’s plan is safe from media scrutiny until they go on the Kerri Miller show.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/18/2010 - 11:20 am.

    Emmer said in response to Strib:

    ….Over the summer and fall we will be meeting and having a dialog with citizens from across Minnesota and from all walks of life about the role of government, the size and scope of government, and about how we can help get government out of the way when it is an obstacle to their lives and businesses…..

    All fine and good.

    But within weeks of taking office next January, the new governor will have to present a budget.

    The major re-organization of government already discussed by Emmer would take many years to pass, organize and implement.

    So unless Emmer has his own version of what Palin called “that hopey-changey thing”, he WILL have to propose a budget based on the existing governmental structure.

    If he wanted to essentially eliminate a department or program, he would have to zero out that line, but he couldn’t unilaterally merge and reorganize in the budget process.

    So in the end, Emmer like all others, will have to come up with numbers and names.

  5. Submitted by Stephan Flister on 06/18/2010 - 11:22 am.

    I think you and Emmer are not using the same standard to judge his answer.
    You ask the question and judge the answer as if you were asking about a problem that needs to be solved – “there is going to be a terrible budget shortfall that will hurt people, making up the shortfall will hurt people, how will you go about doing this?”

    Emmer views the situation as an opportunity deliberately created by republican policy. It doesn’t matter what you cut, or how much you cut, since government is just bad. All of it. Just put all the line items in a hat and pull out numbers until you get to a politically feasible total. The programs and people affected are irrelevant, since it’s just less of a bad thing.

    “Cut” is as specific as you need to be when you want to drown the whole enterprise in a bathtub.

  6. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 06/18/2010 - 12:26 pm.

    You are arguing about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The Ship is going down! Talk about getting into the lifeboats.

    The State has no money because the eroded tax base is not generating any money. 75% of the commercial properties in the Twin Cities have a “For Lease” Sign out front. They used to pay taxes. The state cannot borrow money, at least not for operating expenses.

    The Euro will collapse this summer. Germany could pull the plug any day now.

    The May jobs report = 40,000 private sector jobs. That means double dip recession, although realists call it an ongoing depression. Wake up and smell the collapse.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/18/2010 - 01:26 pm.

    Two thoughts, It’s difficult to contract your way to growth and a tax break is never a tax break. It’s a tax increase for all the rest.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/18/2010 - 01:42 pm.

    Way to bring us all down Glenn.

  9. Submitted by dan buechler on 06/18/2010 - 03:42 pm.

    Richard I agree with you but are you looking at it from more of a micro view or a macro view?

  10. Submitted by John E Iacono on 06/18/2010 - 05:00 pm.

    Here’s how I see it:

    Emmer Says:
    >I want to rethink the model of our state government.

    >I think the best way to do that is to start by ASKING Minnesotans what they think the model should be. I am in process of doing that now.

    >My next step will be to look at the overall design of our current government, and redesign it to fit what the citizens have told me.

    >My FINAL step will be to decided to appropriate budgets for each of the redesigned government.

    EB and the Dems respond:
    >FORGET asking the citizens. We don’t believe you would really care what they think: WE don’t.

    >FORGET redesigning the current way of doing things: we largely wrote it, and we LIKE it.

    >Now, if you will just abandon your stated plans and go along with us, let’s get down to the real nitty gritty: give us some specific cuts so we can attack them – in other words, let’s do business as usual.

    I may be misinterpreting what is going on, but if I am correct, the current DFL — and EB — are painfully showing that they REALLY do not get it.

    I have not decided whether the current dem storm is from being hard of hearing, or stupid, or just cynical, or deliberately and desperately trying to change the discussion from one they do not want to have.

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/18/2010 - 09:36 pm.

    Dan,
    I would like to see the state use bonding for technology and not just infrastructure (bricks and mortar).

    Any tax breaks or tax cuts should be revenue neutral. Anything less would simply add to the deficit.

    We often hear about the magic of tax cuts and tax breaks. Candidates will say that jobs will kick in and the tax cuts or tax breaks will pay for themselves. Unfortunately that is not how the accounting process works.

  12. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 06/18/2010 - 10:51 pm.

    Seems to me Mr. Flister and Mr. Schulze have it about right. When a candidate speaks about “how we can help get government out of the way when it is an obstacle to their lives and businesses,” it’s quite likely he’s revealing the most tremendous kind of blind spot…

    Such folks are usually completely blind to anything but monetary profit and thus want to get government out of the way of people who want to find the most efficient ways of making profit at the expense of others – by dishonest or monopolistic practices and, wherever possible, taking over facets of the most invisible monopoly of all, the government itself, but then using the facets they’ve taken over to maximize profits and executive compensation for themselves and their cronies at the expense of the public.

    Their massive double standard in regards to public as opposed to private entities causes them to feel no qualms whatsoever when executives of the firms now carrying out “privatized” government functions make ten or even one hundred times more than any government employee ever made doing similar work (whereas they would scream bloody murder if any government employee made the kind of money they, themselves, routinely extract from the well being of their shareholders, their customers, and the general public through their own business enterprises).

    Oh, and, of course if you are a sexual minority, they are interested in government being far MORE involved in your private business. In this area, they certainly want to get government IN your way as much as possible.

    To sum up with a shorter Emmer:

    Money?… make it by any and all means necessary, the government will protect your right to do so no matter how much you damage others and the environment (and, of course, be sure you’re allowed to keep every penny of your ill-gotten gains while the public pays to repair any damage you’ve done).

    Love?… only allowed if you’re straight, white and plain vanilla.

    Compassion?… there’s no such word in the English Language (or there won’t be if they have their way).

  13. Submitted by dan buechler on 06/19/2010 - 07:41 am.

    Richard, I pretty much agree, it sounds like you have a good grasp of history/economics. At times as I we drive down the highway (i.e.life)it is good to look in the rearview mirror and see if policies held up. Your first comment may get some more attention in the future from policy makers. One concern of mine is the relatively undiscussed impact of automation (of all kinds) and its impact on employment. As you probably know many parts of our industrial infrastructure can be run now by a few engineers (for example look at railyards or refineries, ATMs or even Craigslist) where is the demand going to come from? Also when I was asking my first question where is the line between the government and the nation. Basically a public vs. private sort of query.

  14. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/19/2010 - 10:03 am.

    Incompatible goals lead to incoherent laws, and I accept that as a consequence of democracy. Compromise often creates irrational but practical positions, and can be lauded for that. But it doesn’t make a desire for an incoherent position valuable, and if Rep. Emmer’s position is correct, it’s only in the sense of a stopped clock, which is right twice a day.

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/19/2010 - 10:09 am.

    Dan,
    The notion that Keynesian economics is to blame for lackluster growth is ridiculous. It’s the lack of Keynesian stimulus that keeps us where we are today. Going back to basic economics, GDP is composed of C+I+G+X. Since C, being consumption and the largest component of GDP, is facing enormous demand side weakness, G is the only available short-term motor the economy has to provide the much needed demand to put the mass of people out of work back to work. The biggest threat to long-term consumption growth is not G debt, but the idle supply of workers who by means of being unemployed, cannot add significantly to the nation’s consumption growth.

    I agree that there is a definite long-term problem if G were to crowd out C&I, but at the moment G is the only possible component that can make a sizable impact on gross demand and employment.

  16. Submitted by Grant Abbott on 06/19/2010 - 01:59 pm.

    Eric,
    I want to thank you for writing the following two paragraphs and the example your article gives of trying to live up to the standard set out in that paragraph. Would that more journalists, commentators, politicians, academics, and preachers would try as well.

    “It’s a struggle to get past the demons. One helpful technique, when hearing from people with whom one disagrees, is listen, not just in hopes of knocking down what they say but with one’s mind open to the possibility that they know something you don’t know, something from which you can learn and/or some areas of relative agreement on which you can seek common ground.

    This may sound kinda twinky or kumbaya or whatnot. But I believe in it pretty strongly both as a way to reduce the angry polarization of politics and, secondarily, as part of what journalism needs to substitute for the spent force of the phony objectivity paradigm.”

  17. Submitted by dan buechler on 06/19/2010 - 02:39 pm.

    Hopefully it is understood that I was and am supporting Keynesian economics.

  18. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/19/2010 - 03:43 pm.

    Dan,
    I’m with you, on that as well.
    Re: automation and unemployment

    Don’t feel sorry for the unskilled US factory worker. They need to go out and get retrained for the modern economy. The decline in US factory employment is actually a symptom of otherwise healthy business activity of trying to keep costs low by raising output per employee. Or in other words getting more done with less people.

    Regarding manufacturing jobs. The US’s percentage of global manufacturing output has hovered around 20% from 1982 to 1995. From 1995 to the present this share has been about 22%. From 1987 to 2005 real value added manufacturing output has increased from $820BN to $1.550TR…or almost doubled. Yet manufacturing jobs continue to disappear due to automation and off-shoring.

    Greater output with less workers is a good thing for the economy as a whole, but is bad for the workers that rely on factory employment. The lessen here is that the workers need to see the writing on the wall and get out of factory work and get retrained or educated. Modern factory workers often need backgrounds in computers or engineering to operate the automated equipment required to make value added products such as steel.

    In short manufacturing in the US is quite healthy. However, for unskilled factory workers it is a miserable way to make a living.

  19. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/19/2010 - 08:31 pm.

    Richard–
    Where is it guaranteed that an economy will necessarily generate good jobs for all workers?
    It is quite possible that fewer workers than available could be sufficient to produce all goods and services for which there is a demand.
    I’m not saying that this is desirable; just that good jobs for all that are willing to prepare for them may require more than a productive economy.

  20. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/19/2010 - 10:05 pm.

    I’m curious about what kinds of voters Mr. Emmer will actually be quizzing about what they’d like to see, or not see, in state government.

    If the only people with whom he speaks are people leaning in his direction to begin with, cutting government – by whatever fraction or percentage – becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I spoke to a lot of people who don’t like government, feel it’s too intrusive, costs too much, and is inefficient. They want it reduced in size and authority. Therefore, voters have told me to reduce the size and intrusiveness of government, as well as its cost, and to insist that what remains operate more efficiently with my tax dollars.”

    This allows Mr. Emmer to truthfully state that he sought voter input on a wide range of issues. What is left unsaid is that he hasn’t sought voter input from a wide range of voter opinions about those issues. In another context, it’s called “preaching to the choir.”

    Do Emmer supporters really believe he’s going to spend a lot of time talking to DFL supporters to get THEIR ideas about government and its role? If he does, I look forward to hearing and reading about how he will incorporate those “liberal” ideas into his plan(s) for state government.

    Much the same, by the way, seems true about the reverse. DFL candidates are not going to spend a lot of time at an Emmer event, talking to the voters in attendance to get THEIR ideas about government and its role.

    Mr. Emmer is being purposely vague because it suits his purposes at the moment. DFL supporters are understandably critical, but from what I’ve encountered as an ordinary citizen, new to the state and metro area, and not a political insider, DFL candidates are similarly vague about their own specifics, at least for now. I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Swift’s assertion that once the primary season is over and we have “real” candidates, THEN it’ll be time to start grilling those same candidates about specifics. Every candidate is trying to appeal to as many voters as possible at the moment, so vagueness and lack of specifics don’t just reveal a character flaw, they also reveal that the candidate is trying to determine the direction from which the political winds are blowing.

    It would be easier to take DFL candidates seriously if they showed some awareness of the fiscal handcuffs under which every level of government is going to be operating for the next several years. We’re already billions in the hole, and as an ordinary citizen, I’m not likely to support the sorts of across-the-board tax increases necessary to fill that financial chasm entirely from the income side. I have no problem, by the way, with VERY progressive taxes that hit the wealthy with much higher dollar amounts. It’s not their money anyway. It belongs to the society, hence a higher tax rate for those who’ve accumulated a larger portion of the society’s wealth does not constitute some especially perverse form of treason. That said, my own income is below the area median, but my Minnesota income taxes this year, on the exact same retirement income, are 3 times the dollar amount that they were last year in my previous state of residence. Since I’m already paying 3 times the taxes I was paying previously on the same income, I can’t personally afford to toss thousands more in tax dollars into the state budget to balance the shortfall. Spending has to be curtailed.

    Similarly, it would be easier to take GOP candidates seriously if they showed some awareness that government is US. Starting with the assumption that government (meaning each citizen) is evil, corrupt, immoral, inefficient, and practices bad dental hygiene is to fall back on the pre-adolescent “it’s all about me” myopia of Ayn Rand. Filling a multi-billion-dollar hole in the state budget will have very serious social, economic, and likely, environmental costs. How, and to whom, are those costs going to be apportioned?

  21. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/19/2010 - 10:36 pm.

    Paul, Your right and that’s the rub.

    In the year 2000 there were 17 Million manufacturing jobs, in the year 2009 only 12 Million. Most of the innovations like the IPhone are not in made in the USA.

    Job losses in construction are cyclical.
    Manufacturing is suffering from permanent losses, so yes, some of them will need to retrain, but it is also largely cyclical.

    If you want to be concerned, look at the 12% unemployment rate in business and 10% unemployment in IT. Those people have specialized degrees-as many do in construction and manufacturing. Retraining them is not a piece of cake so those structural losses are a big problem.

    With consumers forced to live within their means, American firms will have to sell more to the rest of the world. That may seem a tall order, but with a competitive dollar and favorable growth in other countries, exports in which America already excels, such as high-value manufacturing and services, should do well.

    The macroeconomic imperative is clear: a credible medium-term plan to reduce the deficit.

    Microeconomic reforms could also help. We tax income and investment too much and consumption too little. Getting rid of the tax concessions for housing would help both control the deficit and speed up re-balancing. This is one reason why I like the idea of an expanded sales tax in Minnesota.

  22. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/20/2010 - 08:44 am.

    Gentlemen, ladies… this discussion about how Mr. Emmer would balance the state budget is moot.

    Assuming that Mr. Emmer actually wrote the words following his byline in the “Opinion Exchange” section of Sunday’s ‘Strib, or at least is familiar enough with them to give the article in question his approval before it was sent off to the newspaper to be printed, he has provided further proof that the Republican Party has been captured, not by “conservatives,” but by radicals of the lunatic fringe.

    There is nothing – nothing – that qualifies as “conservative” about a proposal to go beyond John C. Calhoun’s reprehensible doctrine of “nullification” to establish a system whereby individual states must “opt in” to federal laws in order for them to take effect. That proposed system literally and figuratively destroys the United States.

    Among the ironies is that Mr. Emmer purports to be a lawyer, and lawyers are, presumably, at least vaguely familiar with the Constitution of the United States. In fact, numerous Republican candidates for office in this and other states during the current election cycle have made something of a fetish of referring to the Constitution, and to referring to themselves as “Constitutional Conservatives.” For their edification, then, it’s useful to briefly quote from Article VI of the document in question: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

    The meaning of that quoted passage seems very clear, and as an old, broken-down history teacher, I’ll simply add that arguments over the application of that passage were settled at Appomattox Courthouse in April, 1865. Mr. Emmer may have studied law, but he must have failed his history course(s). The South, and the whole house of cards that constitutes “States’ Rights,” was on the LOSING side in the Civil War.

    The notion of being able to ignore the federal laws you don’t like certainly has its appeal. Some folks would like to treat minorities as subhuman, for example, and would like to ignore federal civil rights legislation. Personally, I’d like to be able to ignore the recent Supreme Court decision (and the century-long series of precedents leading up to it) that grants “personhood” to corporations, despite the fact that corporations – as they have repeatedly demonstrated – are able to flout local, state AND federal laws with far greater alacrity, and far less chance of being held accountable, than any individual person. But I can’t do that. The Constitution is the final arbiter, and the Supreme Court is the final interpreter of our laws.

    In this household, at least, Mr. Emmer’s sponsorship of this measure effectively disqualifies him as a political candidate for ANY office, much less that of Governor. It seems safe to assume that whatever his budgetary plan might be, it will favor his interests and those of his supporters at the expense of everyone else. Where is Hubert Humphrey when we really need him?

  23. Submitted by William Pappas on 06/20/2010 - 08:47 am.

    Thank you Stephan Flister for that very simple and accuratae explanation of Emmer’s philosopohy (and all republicans for that matter) on cutting 20% of state government and/or twenty billion from the budget. They don’t believe in government so it just doesn’t matter where the cuts come from. The policy is to create deficits and then slash to balance. Nearly every responsible economist knows this will have a depressing effect on recovery.
    A frightening world awaits us if we are to rely on voluntary environmental compliance or self regulated banks or charity driven welfare when corporate ethics are at an all time low. Meanwhile social morals and our private reproductive and personal relationship decisions are legislated by Big Brother. Mr. Black, the radicalization of the Republican Party is responsible for the polarization of politcs today, pure and simple. Democrats are bending to the right day after day to reach compromise while conservaitves have tethered themselves to a movement that is radical in its views of government, society and religious tolerance and have forsaken any negotiation on their legislative agenda.

  24. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/20/2010 - 11:04 am.

    And of course Emmer also was quoted in today’s STrib as saying that he’ll release a budget “in October”; that is, at the last minute; too late for serious discussion or fact checking.

  25. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/20/2010 - 11:09 am.

    @Richard (#21):
    One answer is to discourage the current business practice of relying on overtime from existing employees rather than hiring new ones (I believe that the U.S. leads the industrialized world in overtime).
    Currently this makes good economic sense, since overtime does not require any increase in benefit costs.

  26. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/20/2010 - 10:02 pm.

    Paul,
    There’s a few reasons:
    One, the factory-based jobs that are disappearing due to retirement without replacement. (productivity)

    Secondly, there’s a lot of skills displacement: younger workers with industrial skills can’t find jobs in an increasingly non-industrial economy.

    Thirdly, productivity continues to increase, so the marginal value of adding labor has yet to catch up with the marginal value of adding technology, and IT doesn’t have the thorny issue of benefits.

    Lastly, from business’ point of view, it’s cheaper to pay the OT and not have to train and pay the benefits to the new hire. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but the numbers say otherwise.

    When demand once again rises such that labor is necessary to be hired, and this may be some time, then and only then will the job market rise. I expect this to be true for this recession, and likely true until the majority of baby boomers retire out of the job market.

  27. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/20/2010 - 11:16 pm.

    I long for the day we get a real candidate who wants to do what is right for the people (as opposed to the moneyed interest). All the better if this candidate could tell the truth about the necessary sacrifices and trade-offs.

  28. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/21/2010 - 09:35 am.

    “When demand once again rises such that labor is necessary to be hired, and this may be some time, then and only then will the job market rise. I expect this to be true for this recession, and likely true until the majority of baby boomers retire out of the job market.”

    This is still not a given.
    It is still cheaper to increase supply by:
    1. Increasing productivity per worker (automation).
    2. Outsourcing.
    3. Overtime (actually part of #1).

    We’ll see a significant increase in hiring only when these are not sufficient or possible.

    There’s an element of ‘the tragedy of the commons’ here.
    Workers are also consumers: increasing the number of well paid workers increases demand for goods and services.
    However, this is a long term aggregate effect.
    The immediate effect for any specific employer is an increase in costs — the increase in sales is delayed.
    As long as we’re tied to the quarterly financial statement this will not change.

  29. Submitted by Dan Gerber on 06/22/2010 - 02:18 am.

    If Rep. Emmer ran a delicatessen your sandwich
    would have very thinly sliced baloney, er, uh,
    bologna.

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