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Sen. Tarryl Clark caught in middle of doomed tax-increase bill — and of budget-balancing politics

Today’s vote fell to Sen. Tarryl Clark, the DFLer who is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District.

After long debate, the Minnesota Senate voted this afternoon on a budget-balancing bill that includes a tax increase.

Raising taxes, in case you haven’t noticed, is not popular politics. Even several DFLers opposed their caucus bill, meaning the vote was tied at 33-33.

Clark, who had been on the floor earlier, was out of sight. Where’d she go?

Republicans chortled.

Clearly, Clark didn’t want to be on the record.

The Senate waited and waited.

“Do the rules require any specified time?” asked Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem as the body waited.

“I think it’s up to me,” said Sen. James Metzen, the president of the Senate.

There was more waiting. More chortling.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller was on his cell phone.

Finally, 10 minutes after the vote began, she entered. She voted “yes.”

Rep. Tarryl Clark
Rep. Tarryl Clark

“I wanted to thank you for waiting,” Clark said told the senators. “I think you know there have been some issues with my son’s health. I had to go deal with that.”

Anyway, Clark’s vote meant passage of the bill, which calls for a tax increase for the state’s highest wage-earners.

Several DFL senators — Terri Bonoff, John Doll, Sharon Erickson Ropes, Lisa Fobbe, Ann Lynch, Rick Olseen, Mary Olson, Sandy Rummel, Kathy Saltzman and Dan Skogen — all joined Republicans in opposing the bill.

With so little support even among DFLers, it became clearer than ever, this is a bill with no future.

Governor invokes ‘Jason’ horror imagery
“The DFL’s tax increase is like Jason in Friday the 13th,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty said of the DFL proposal. “It’s scary and it keeps coming back.”

The Senate vote, by the way, means there’s no chance of even the Senate overriding a certain Pawlenty veto.

Up until the actual vote, the mood had been cordial in the Senate chamber.

Contrary to what you might see on TV sound bites, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and senate minority leader Dave Senjem seem to respect each other. Maybe even like each other.

Moments before the Minnesota senate took up the DFL’s proposal to balance the budget, Senjem and Pogemiller, so often presented as bitter rivals, were saying good things about each other and their respective caucuses.

“He’s a good man,” said Pogemiller of Senjem.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller

“We’re all good people here,” said Senjem of his DFL and Republican colleagues as the DFL proposal was debated in the Senate Tax Committee this morning. “We just see Minnesota going forward in different directions.”

Sen. Geoff Michel, assistant minority leader, joshed with Pogemiller — before the Senate took up the bill that would resolve the current biennium’s $2.9 billion deficit.

“Hey, you’re going to be out on the floor today, aren’t you?” said Michel, joking with Pogemiller about the amount of time the majority leader has spent in “smoke-filled rooms.”

As Sen. Dick Cohen, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, started introducing the budget-balancing bill, Michel began cranking up his right arm, like a pitcher getting ready to head to the mound.

“Just getting warmed up,” said Michel, as Republicans prepared to lambast the bill.

All of those gentle words seemed to disappear, though, when debate started on the DFL plan that would add a fourth-tier income tax bracket for Minnesota’s wealthiest — an increase to couples filing jointly with a taxable income of $200,000or more, a 9.15 percent rate, as opposed to the current 7.85. Such an increase would generate an estimated $400 million over the biennium. Later in the day, DFLers lowered that rate to 9.10, based on revenue department estimates that the original proposed rate would actually generate $484 million. Seventy percent of that revenue would come from people making $500,000 a year or more, DFLers said.

There’s even a sunset date for that increase in the DFL plan, called House File 2037.

 If there is a surplus of at least $500 million by the end of 2013, the tax increase would “click off.”

Once upon a time, there were surpluses in the Minnesota budget. But Republicans scoff at the notion that it could happen by 2013.

During debate, Michel noted that South Dakota has no state income tax, suggesting that thousands of Minnesotans making $200,000 or more will head west.

Sen. Tom Bakk, head of the Senate Tax Committee, responded that if South Dakota were Michel’s model, he should also note that the state is home to zero Fortune 500 companies, while Minnesota is home base for 19 such firms.

Job-killer or needed fix?
Republicans called the bill a job-killer.

DFLers said it was responsible fiscal management, a budget-reduction bill more than a tax increase bill.

Sometimes, the words sounded harsh. But, in fact, in the midst of debate, there wasn’t much real passion. Mostly, the senators didn’t listen to each other. Why bother?

Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem
Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem

This is an old script. Everybody knew what the other person was going to say. These same arguments have been heard during the eight years of the administration of Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

At one point, Senjem and Bakk were wandering around the Senate floor. They crossed paths, smiled and shook hands.

 In the end, the Senate vote doesn’t matter. No Senate Republicans supported the measure.

And no Republicans in the House are expected to support the measure, either, meaning the House can’t override the certain veto of Pawlenty, who has said he will not sign any bill with a tax increase no matter how often DFLers use words like “fair” or “investment in Minnesota”or “compromise.”

So how does this play out?

Pogemiller says he will urge his Republican colleagues to come up with a “cuts-only” budget plan. (A number of Republicans did not support the governor’s cuts-and-shifts-only approach to balancing the budget.)

Republicans aren’t sure yet whether they will make such a proposal, knowing full well the vast majority of DFLers won’t support it.

What then?

Sen. Julianne Ortman, minority leader on the Senate Tax Committee, shrugged her shoulders but then came up with what she sees as a scenario of how the most recent stalemate in Minnesota government ends.

Two words: special session.

What will ultimately force the hands of the DFL, she thinks, is the cash-flow problem looming in the not-so-distant future. By the end of this month, or in early June, the state will be out of money.

That cash-flow problem, not next Monday’s legislative deadline for the regular session, will be what will cause DFLers to blink, she believes. The governor will hold off on calling a special session until a budget-balancing agreement is reached with DFL leaders. The pressure on DFL leaders will grow from within their own caucus as the state treasury shrinks closer to zero.

Never has the Republican minority seemed so comfortable in its no-new-taxes position. It’s such a simple message to take to the polls in November. It fits with their gubernatorial standard bearer, Tom Emmer, It seems to fit with they see as a national mood.

Meantime, DFLers are of the belief — hope? — that vast numbers of Minnesotans are paying close attention to the state budget and the impact the cuts will have on everything from property taxes (they’ll go up) to services (they’ll go down).

Tony Sertich, the House minority leader, does say that the DFL solution is “complex” but is quick to add that he believes Minnesotans understand that the state needs a long-term solution to its economic woes.

DFLers call their plan a compromise
DFLers insist that their plan is filled with compromise and, in fact, is 85 percent the governor’s fix to balancing the budget, with “only” 15 percent coming from the fourth-tier income taxes.

Sen. Dick Cohen
Sen. Dick Cohen

“I don’t want to vote for this bill,” said Cohen, a key player in writing it. He doesn’t like the bill he helped write because of the deep cuts that it creates. Remember, this bill has roughly $736 million in budget cuts, far more than the increase in taxes.

Like so many DFLers, he pointed out that the bill “codified”many of the cuts that Pawlenty had made with his unallotments last spring. The bill affirms Pawlenty’s lowering of the renter’s credit. It affirms his reductions in aid to local governments. It affirms his delay of payments to schools.

Oh, how they tried to show their willingness to “compromise” with Republicans.

“I know it’s difficult to support a tax increase,” Bakk said. “… If you [Republicans] have some different ideas, tell me your suggestion.” 

But after all the words — harsh and gentle — only a few questions remained: What’s Plan B? Plan C? Plan D?

These are vital questions because Plan A, for better or worse, isn’t going anywhere.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 05/10/2010 - 06:33 pm.

    I am happy that Clark and her fellow DFL’rs showed some spine and stood up for their stated beliefs.

    If you Google the “history of federal income tax rates” you will see that as the whole country became more regressive in our tax rates, the deficits grew.

    Simple solution if the “banksters” in Washington want to do it. 1. Raise income tax to 1950’s level. 2. Cut spending on silly wars and defense systems, and 3. Invest in wind and solar to create new jobs while the public works projects of the 1930’s get replicated.

    p.s. that’s Davis,Jr.

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/10/2010 - 07:55 pm.

    Looks like the tax increase had broad bi-partisan opposition.

    Thank you Senator Clark – I cannot wait to read your “tax and spend” campaign literature. That should play well in your district.

    Come on Margret, you can do it! Go for it!


    Your Conservative campaign advisor.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/11/2010 - 08:00 am.

    As far as I know, the only solution to a cash flow problem is more cash, and that’s the solution the governor has specifically ruled out. It’s the governor’s job to meet payroll, not the legislature’s. It’s up to him to figure out a way of doing it.

  4. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 05/11/2010 - 08:19 am.

    It all depends…

    On how you ask the question. If you ask: “Would you like to pay more taxes?”

    The answer will be, of course, no.

    If you ask, would you like to educate children, provide for the common good, build roads? Then perhaps the answer will be different?

    Cutting spending is not the only solution, raising new revenue is part of the solution also. How is it acceptable to say that NO NEW TAXES is a solution? How can an effective compromise be reached if one side is UNWILLING to compromise?

    The longer we wait on biting the bullet of raising revenue, the worse things are going to get.

  5. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 05/11/2010 - 09:58 am.

    The Gov. STILL hasn’t said how he will repay the postponed money to schools. I’m tired of the baloney. I’m tired of hardline positions that don’t make any sense. I’m tired of anyone who calls anyone who proposes any tax increase as someone who is a “tax and “spend” addict. I’m tired of posturing without taking responsibility. It’s easy to take potshots if you are in the minority: you don’t have to face consequences of your decisions. I’m voting against any candidate in my district who does not know how to make common sense compromises.

  6. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/11/2010 - 10:17 am.


    Please remember, “There will never be enough money to satisfy the DFL special interest groups.” That is the reason we are in this mess, the unprecedented growth in government over the last 30 years and the DFL’s obsession with giving more and more money to the groups that give them the money.

    A failure to recognize the “fat” and “waste” in the current budget and the inability for “reform” will result in the ever-present DFL talking points -“we need more money, taxes!”

  7. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 05/11/2010 - 12:36 pm.

    No matter what you come with, there is not 4 billion dollars worth of fat and waste. We are not in this spot because of DFL policies, we are in this spot because the economy tanked, and we lost tax income from everywhere as a result. And needs increased because the economy tanked so spending increased.

    So here we are… we cut state income and make the state deficit greater, while trying to balance the cut in income by cutting off those who face a greater need for assistance.

    Yeah, that’s what Minnesota has become. Elmer Andersen is rolling in his grave.

  8. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/12/2010 - 08:02 am.

    Sen. Tarryl Clark should highlight Congresswoman Bachmann’s record. Bachmann’s attendance and what has she accomplished for the 6th district. Is the 6th getting a return on their investment from Bachmann? Sen. Clark will lose the battle over ideologies, Bachmann’s record is a target rich environment.

    Waste and fraud is the favorite bogeyman of conservatives. When Tim Pawlenty was House Majority Leader in 1998 and leading up to his campaign for governor. He stated that he would cut the “billion and billions in wasted state spending”.

    Thoughtful conservatives are still waiting for the governor to follow through on his rhetoric of the past eight years. The fact that he has yet to find and cut his rhetorical “wasted state spending”, an admission that it is harder to find than he has claimed. Or, is it simply not there?

  9. Submitted by David Willard on 05/15/2010 - 12:50 am.

    Pawlenty is the goalie who deflects the happy DFLers choice of tax and spend. It’s easy as the majority party to whine about not having enough money when they want more more more, while the typical taxpayer has to make do with less and less. Harder still with a left-wing Democratic-beholden media who tells Minnesotans they are victims

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