Sen. Bakk holds court on future of state; GOP leaders ready to move legislation

Sen. Tom Bakk woke up at 4:46 this morning and had some sort of political and grandfatherly epiphany.

About seven hours later, at Capitol news conference, the always loquacious and blunt DFL Senate minority leader from Cook went on a bit of a rant, bordering on sermon, about the future of Minnesota.

“I woke up thinking this: What kind of Minnesota do I want to have?” Bakk said during what was supposed to be another routine end-of-week briefing by DFL legislative leaders.

He said he woke up thinking of his little grandson.

State Sen. Tom Bakk
MinnPost/Jay Weiner
State Sen. Tom Bakk

“I woke up thinking, what’s the K-12 system gonna be like for him. How much is [college] tuition going to be? Is his mom and dad going to be able to afford it. My younger son’s gonna have a little girl in April. What if she’s born with a disability? What kind of opportunity is she going to have to meet her maximum potential? I’m just somebody who believes government has a role in helping in those areas … We’ve lost sight of the real discussion, which is, on May 23, what kind of Minnesota do we want to have?”

Well, that sure clarified the debate in the Minnesota House and Senate after the second full week, in which the Republican-controlled chambers introduced bills to cut some corporate taxes and reduce the number of government employees. In Bakk’s view, all that will do is increase local property taxes and make government less efficient.

Bakk, in the Legislature since 1994, spoke from the heart soon after he spoke with, some anger, about the opening days of the legislative session.

“I am a bit concerned about how we are getting started,” he said, adding that, in his view, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty spent plenty of time “demonizing local government” and shifting the tax burden onto property tax payers.

And already this session, “I heard the demonization of government and public employees, and it begs the question … You hear people say, ‘I came here to strangle the beast.’ Government is not some foreign entity, an alien being from some place …

“I would say this to the business community: ‘We spend half of the state budget on education … The work of government is the feeder program for our economy. If we don’t spend that money, how are our businesses ever gonna get qualified employees?’ “

Earlier, in their own, far less emotional briefing, House GOP leaders Speaker Kurt Zellers and Majority Leader Mike Dean spoke of wanting to swiftly move forward bills introduced last week. While Zellers said the public would be heard in committees, he also said there would be little patience for dragging matters along.

Some issues are old and long-simmering ones, he said, such as lifting a nuclear power plant moratorium and reducing the business tax rate.

Said Zellers: “We want to make sure everyone is heard, but we don’t want folks to come in to slow the process down … if you’re coming in with an argument to an old idea. The average Minnesotan doesn’t have time for that. They told us to get down here, get to work and get the job done.”

Dean said traditional wisdom is that January is a time for organization and figuring things out. Not this session, he said. No way.

“This just isn’t that kind of a year,” said Dean. “If we are going to be done on time, we have to start now … We’re not going to wait around for February or March or April to start our work.”

As for Dayton’s Feb. 15 budget deadline, Zellers said, “We’ll be respectful of that,” but he didn’t say if the House would hold off on submitting its budget until after Dayton’s proposal.

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