Emmer unveils his balanced budget — short of key specifics; Dayton’s budget plan needs more work, too

GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer today unveiled his budget-balancing plan.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer today unveiled his budget-balancing plan.

Tom Hauser, the respected political reporter for KSTP-TV, had a furrowed brow. He was examining Rep Tom Emmer’s seemingly balanced budget plan, with all the columns, numbers and details and the comparisons (PDF) with his opponents’ plans.

Emmer also offered two other supporting documents — one outlining his 2012-13 budget targets (PDF) and a second comparison of his plan and those of his opponents (PDF).

Hauser, meanwhile, was listening intently this afternoon as the Republican candidate outlined the specific amounts of the state budget he would propose to cut, if and when he defeats DFLer Mark Dayton and the Independence Party’s Tom Horner and becomes governor in January.

Emmer was talking his passionate campaign talk of “living within our means,” and no new taxes, of the state having enough coming in to pay its bills going out, about how local governments need to more wisely spend tax dollars, and how public employees who retire or leave their jobs won’t be replaced over the next few years.

His staff distributed a handout titled “The only honest budget plan from the only straight-talking candidate.”

Dayton’s tax plan falls short
Maybe it was a jab at DFL candidate Mark Dayton, because it came about the same time reports began circulating that Dayton’s income tax increase proposal to balance his budget just doesn’t add up. His spokesperson said the DFL candidate will have to go back to the drawing board. [PDF]

The Republicans jumped all over Dayton noting that a Minnesota Department of Revenue analysis showed that “Dayton’s numbers don’t add up.”

Oops.

So, now, Hauser and other reporters were speed-reading Emmer’s plan. In it, Emmer proposes trimming higher education funding by more than $400 million from the state’s projected 2012-2013 budget. And he showed that his health and human services budget would cut $2.25 billion from state projections. And state aid to local governments would get trimmed by more than $1 billion. And state agencies would get reduced by more than $700 million. He called these his “spending targets.”

Through all these cuts, Emmer would — in his view — cover enough of the projected $6 billion deficit from the state budget to balance the whole darn thing.

But how exactly, those pesky reporters were asking, would he make the cuts — which programs, which aid to cities? How? Where? Some reporters were asking about the specific cuts to specific programs within those massive trims from the state’s $31 billion biennial budget, which is expected to grow to $38 billion.

Hauser, stroking his chin 15 minutes into Emmer’s Capitol news conference, got to the nub of the apparent flaw in Emmer’s presentation.

Different perspectives on Emmer budget
“So, just to be clear,” Hauser asked politely, “we know the numbers that you’re trying to get to — we just don’t know exactly how you’re going to get there.”

Poetic.

Replied Emmer: “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. The other way of saying it is we are respecting the process at the same time.” By process, he meant the give and take with the Legislature.

But his bottom line. “You’re going to have to live within your means … If we’re in the governor’s office, obviously, we will provide detail …”

He left K-12 funding in place and said public safety and justice spending would be saved.

Later, he added: “We didn’t come in here to say, ‘No government at
all.’ “

But Emmer wanted to make it clear that he would get to those details within his cuts by working cooperatively with House and Senate.

“We simply cannot sustain health and human services growth at the pace that it’s at,” Emmer said. “What goes into those components, we’ll save that discussion as we go forward … We are open to discussing with Republicans and Democrats within those budget numbers: ‘What would you do and how would you like to do it?’ . . . Government cannot simply spend what it wants to spend.”

Still, the Legislature should know that when it came to health and human services, the proposed $2.25 billion cut was a gift.

“We could have done less [in funding] in that area and chose not to,” Emmer said.

Emmer protested to the gathered media mass: “You wanted the details. I have given you more details than anybody else.”

Candidates quick to react
Of course the reaction was swift.

From Dayton’s spokesperson Katie Tinucci: “Rep. Emmer’s plan will cut funding for Higher Education by 14%, K-12 Education by 14%, and Local Government Aid by 33%. He will thus cause huge increases in property taxes, higher college tuitions and seriously damage the quality of education throughout Minnesota. Furthermore, his drastic cuts in funding for Health and Human Services will restrict access to essential health care for those most in need.”

IP candidate Tom Horner, in an interview with MinnPost, was a bit more philosophical.

He called Emmer’s budget “designed for people who think Minnesota is on the decline and think that it’s OK to be on the decline. I think it’s a budget that undermines our opportunity to grow.”

He added: “This is a budget that is about Tom Emmer’s political future and ideology and not the future of the state.”

Horner said reducing higher-ed funding and research money would put Minnesota at a disadvantage in economic competitiveness. Horner, referring to Emmer’s proposed health and human services cuts, noted that at a health care forum last week, Emmer “made it clear his intention is to transfer [state health costs] to charity care … I think this is a budget that does that.” But “charity” case costs are transferred to others in increased premiums, and to employers, Horner said.

“I think it is a budget that is all about 2011,” he said. “It’s one more short-term focus … We’ve tried this short-term cut-and-paste and it doesn’t work … We need long-term solutions.”

Added Horner: “I think the bottom line is now we have a very clear picture of the priorities of the three candidates and how we would govern the state.”

But back to Emmer, for this was his day — and his plan with no new taxes.

Horner wants to broaden but reduce the sales tax. Dayton’s income tax plan, raising less than he originally had estimated, seems to have fallen about $ 2 billion short of closing the budget gap.

As GOP chairman Tony Sutton said in a statement about Dayton’s plan:

“Today’s estimates from the Department of Revenue confirm that Mark Dayton has no credibility when it comes to balancing the state’s budget. Dayton repeatedly promised that his tax hike on the ‘rich’ would raise $4 billion but now we know it will raise less than half that amount. Given that Dayton’s numbers don’t add up, it’s time for him to come clean with Minnesotans and reveal what other taxes he will raise on hard-working Minnesotans.”

If it wasn’t clear before today, it is now as Rep. Emmer succinctly put the entire campaign into perspective with exactly seven weeks until Election Day.
 
He said his jobs and education and budget plans show Minnesotans one clear thing: “You have a choice.”

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/14/2010 - 07:50 pm.

    I’m so reassured that Mr. Emmer added that “We didn’t come in here to say, ‘No government at
    all.'” That’s not quite like saying “I won’t drown it in the bathtub.” He of course will refuse to say anything about raising taxes to “live within our means” because Mr. Emmer is a right wing ideologue. Mr. Emmer’s comments show that he will just be “Tim Pawlenty III” as Governor. We already know how Pawlenty worked that “give and take” with the Legislature.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/14/2010 - 07:52 pm.

    And now we’re getting to numbers that might matter in 2011… I’ll be looking forward to counterproposals or counterspecifics from the Dayton and Horner campaigns. It’s no surprise that they’d be quick to jump on Emmer’s numbers, which will destroy the budgets of a lot of counties and cities, but I’d like to be able to compare apples to apples to see how they differ.

    If Dayton’s revenue projections won’t hold up, it doesn’t mean he has “…no credibility…” but it does mean he needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a different and better proposal. I think increasing taxes for the wealthy is a perfectly viable and just tactic, but it may not solve the entire budgetary problem for the state, so if that tax increase won’t fill the budgetary hole, what else does Dayton propose that will?

    Horner has to do the same thing. If he’s not going to raise tax rates on the wealthy – something that would surely be regarded in many a country club as outright treason from a Republican – how do his revenue enhancements and spending cuts compare to those of the other “major” party candidates?

    There ain’t no free lunch, and the cost(s) of health care are eating us alive. If we’d had the foresight and courage to truly reform our health care system, there might be some hope for a gentle transition, but health insurance lobbyists made sure that didn’t happen. We’re still stuck with for-profit “insurance” that pays obscene salaries to executives and healthy dividends to shareholders while haggling with doctors and hospitals over the cost of care, with patients caught somewhere in the middle.

    I certainly agree with the last sentence in the piece. Emmer’s plan absolutely provides us with a choice, but before we make that choice, we ought to see what the other candidates propose with equal specificity. Emmer remains categorically unqualified for office as far as I’m concerned, given his “tenther” and other radical right ideas, but he has provided, I think, a valuable service to the state by sharpening the focus of the ongoing debate. Dayton will have to make his case, and Horner will have to show, with specifics, how his plan is better than either of the others.

    This could get interesting…

  3. Submitted by Joseph Skar on 09/14/2010 - 08:24 pm.

    Love it, sounds very much like zero-based budgeting. Every unit is allocated a starting point and then the legislative branch can dictate priority. As for Dayton what a total disaster and how does Minnpost not fact check his budget for even remote accuracy. Maybe this is what happens when political ideology gets in the way reporting. Eric Black’s last report said it best, “Dayton offers facts and logic defending his tax plan”. Are you serious, that heading should come with apology to reader for a lack of background work. Minnpost should take a page from the Dayton campaign and “ask for suggestions”.

  4. Submitted by David Willard on 09/14/2010 - 08:48 pm.

    Wow, I thought the Dayton Plan was Golden. Crazy Eyes just Cain’t get a break. It’s wonderful to see on this site, much like the Strib site, the Left talk with each other and agree to degrees on how much better Progresssyves are than say..GOD!. Conservatism is probably the only option to get the grown-ups in to run the government for a while, then after required sacrifice turn the reigns over to the self-tortured rich elite who run the Left now.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/14/2010 - 09:07 pm.

    The state of Minnesota, under the guidance that says less government is better for the state, has been cutting taxes and government budgets. It has cut and cut too far. Moreover, conservatives have employed a systematic under funding of programs they don’t like. When dollars come up short, they have an argument then to cut them.

    There are many public goods that the private sector will not fund because of the inherent nature of public goods, specifically the difficulty of profits. But public goods have positive externalities — positive results and outcomes — that the private sector will not pursue because they cannot get profits. Things like roads, education, clean environment, and social programs. Anyway, a more basic problem exists when government is under funded and debts rise whether you’re talking about paying for war or paying for after school programs.

    We have been shrinking spending and we have been shrinking government. Both have been cut so far that they cannot be used as tools now to balance the budget. There is no fat on the bone. Moreover, cutting is hurting the basic services and infrastructure of the state and forcing funding of programs to shift from income taxes to other sources like Pawlenty’s “fees” and primarily property taxes. Emmer’s argument is misleading and deceptive.

  6. Submitted by Tim Larson on 09/14/2010 - 09:14 pm.

    Government cannot simply spend what it wants to spend.”

    If Emmer can pound that line, and make it the defining issue.

    He wins.

  7. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/14/2010 - 10:19 pm.

    “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.”

    I suppose so, Mr. Emmer.

    Perhaps you can tell us:

    What precisely the ‘autopilot’ increase is and why you ignore it in your outline of a budget.

    Where it is that higher education can elimate $312 million (>11% of it’s current funding).

    Where that $681 million in reduced aids and credits will come from (22% reduction in current funding levels).

    Where you’re going to find $553 million in loose change lying around in state agencies and “other state spending”(> 8%).

    Don’t tell me you’re going to sit down and work it out with the legislature. Last I looked, it was the governor’s job to present a budget to the legislature, not an outline.

    I know you don’t believe in shooting your whole wad in the first period, but the voters deserve more than a sketch which can be blamed on those damned Democrats when it fails to come to fruition.

  8. Submitted by rolf westgard on 09/15/2010 - 03:50 am.

    The more we hear, the better the sounds from Mr. Horner.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/15/2010 - 07:27 am.

    Rep. Emmer talks a lot about how government should be run more like a business, although I have yet to see much evidence of that.

    We want to talk about politics and avoid any substantive discussions. Which is probably because we do not have any easy and acceptable answers on the policy side. Nobody agrees on the facts. The DFL doesn’t want to talk about it when they’re trying to spend more on education and social services. The GOP doesn’t want to talk about it because that would put tax increases on the table. So you have a bipartisan agreement not to talk about the most important problems facing our state.

    Tom Horner appeals to those of us in the middle who desire thoughtful, measured responses to Minnesota’s challenges instead of reactionary political responses.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/15/2010 - 08:39 am.

    The thoughtful reader will recognize Tom’s budget plan immeidatly….it’s the same one most Minnesota families have adopted the past few years.

    Of course spendthrift Democrats and public employee unions will be terribly confused and scared, but they too will eventually learn that life doesn’t always adhere to a union contract.

    The true public service professional will see now an opportunity to make valuable time and money saving reforms which will not only make for happy, satisfied customers, but will increase the sense of pride among public employees.

  11. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/15/2010 - 08:55 am.

    “Government cannot simply spend what it wants to spend.”

    Government doesn’t “want” to spend anything.

    People, organizations and corporations desire services from their government. They lobby for those services. Some of those services end up being provided by the government.

    Want roads to your house or business? Want zoning to protect the value of your property investment? Want clean water so people don’t get ill or die? Want clean water so people will come to your resort? Want agriculture inspection so people don’t get ill or die or sue your restaurant or grocery store for illness or death? Don’t want to face a gauntlet of homeless and/or mentally ill people begging on the way to work? Don’t want to have to support your crazy brother? Want a court system to enforce against patent infringement? Want to have your parent on Medicare/Medicaid so you don’t have to spend your money to support them? Want to have a relatively stable economy by providing unemployment insurance so every downturn doesn’t become a crisis? Want to widen the sales of your healthcare device/procedure by having coverage for the uninsured or uninsurable?

    It is a rare government service that does not benefit society in a wider fashion that the apparent direct recipient of the services.

    Cut and cut and cut, soon it WILL be a different state.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2010 - 09:06 am.

    Swift,

    My family invested in a Ph.D and doubled our income. I also added services to my business and expanded my online advertising- again, growing our income. I did have to tighten my belt however, lost ten pounds last year my new diet and exercise program. Gotta admit, it never occurred to either my wife or I to actually reduce our income, deliberately bringing in less money just doesn’t seem like a solid plan for economic stability, looks more like a plan for an overdrawn bank account. Hey, isn’t that what Pawlenty’s been doing for the past 8 years?

    Everyone else,

    Hey now that we have this pesky budget thing out of the way can we PLEASE get back to the really important stuff? We’ve been distracted long enough from the core issues of family values, gay marriage, etc.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2010 - 09:20 am.

    Kind of interesting over on the Strib. Emmer’s budget plan has pretty much fallen off the radar screen already. The comments are 95% critical and derisive, which for the Strib comment section is, well, interesting I think. It looks a lot more like Minnpost which is usually not the case. Of course these comment sections don’t necessarily represent much demographic wise but I gotta admit it peaks my curiosity, I’ll be interested in the next round of polls. Usually Republicans start lying about now trying to present themselves as moderates of some kind. I think it’s impossible at this point for Emmer to appeal to anything beyond the “base”. We’ll see how big that base really is eh?

  14. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/15/2010 - 09:40 am.

    First of all, it’s already a different state than it was… a VERY different state.

    The fact is, Mr. Emmer doesn’t want the state to interfere with his cronies and supporters: the richest of the rich, their sycophants, and those who (mostly wrongly) believe they will be among that class, someday, being able to spend (or hoping to be able to spend) whatever THEY want from money extracted from the rest of the population.

    No, the government can’t spend whatever it wants, because taxing the citizens of the state into bankruptcy would be very destructive to the well being of the state in general, but we are NO WHERE NEAR THAT POINT, especially for Emmer’s most loyal followers.

    Using moderate increases in taxes on those who can most afford them, thereby returning to the kind of tax fairness that existed prior to the Ventura/Swiggum/Moe tax reductions and “Jessie checks” has an excellent chance of allowing us also to begin to rebuild the general prosperity of our state for rich and poor alike.

    Second, the massive increases in “health and human services” funding cannot be avoided, since it will be caused by the movement of the entire Baby Boom generation into senior citizen status (that’s YOU and ME, folks). Any attempt to cut HHS spending at this point will bring nothing more nor less than a lack of available medical care for those retired and retiring Baby Boomers and/or the disappearance of the nursing homes many of us will need (because they can’t survive under current state levels of reimbursement, let alone under the cuts Mr. Emmer’s budget would necessitate).

    It would also bring the bankruptcy of many local rural hospitals which are also, already struggling to survive under current levels of reimbursement and some of which would close if their reimbursements were cut, which Mr. Emmer would, inevitably, do.

    Finally, if Mr. Emmer’s approach is “running government like a business” it’s running it like businesses back in the 80’s which in their quest for unreasonable levels of profit, began to run only by the bottom line – which in the effort to squeeze more profits from a particular division, reduced staffing in that division to the point where it could no longer provide reliable products and services to its customers which, of course, further reduced sales, reducing profits followed by further reductions in staffing to the point where that division was closed, not because of any failure on the part of those who worked there but because the only tool in the arsenal of those in charge of attempting to improve the company was to cut costs (which mostly translated into cutting employees).

    This NEVER worked, long term, and did a great deal of damage to and even killed many companies. It has been largely cast aside by wise business people everywhere. So why are we now being encouraged to run government in ways that NEVER worked, long term, for businesses anywhere?

    Because some of those who couldn’t make it as business leaders couldn’t admit they were wrong in that approach and so became politicians in order the change the government whom they (wrongly) blamed for business problems of their own making, supported by others who are also incompetent business owners and managers.

    If we let these people, people such as Mr. Emmer, and King Timmy, run the state, they will have the same effect on our state as they have had on their own and their friends’ mismanaged businesses, nothing but destruction.

    Mr. Emmer’s budgetary plans and his entire philosophy of life would inevitably drive us faster and farther toward third world status with a very few at the top having far more than “everything” and the rest of us having virtually nothing: no healthcare, no education, no decent jobs, no clean lakes and rivers; no quality of life.

    Those who support Mr. Emmer expect to be among those at the top, but the reality is, most of his supporters will suffer as much as the rest of us from his carrying out his destructive philosophy and MOST of his supporters will end up right down there at the bottom with the rest of us.

  15. Submitted by Tim Walker on 09/15/2010 - 10:07 am.

    Every time Emmer says that his plan would not raise taxes, he must be called out on the fact (I’m looking at YOU, mainstream media) that his proposed cuts to state aid to local governments (to the tune of more than $1 billion) actually WILL cause tax increases.

    How? It’s simple, so simple that even the MSM should be able to connect the dots and so simple that Dayton and Horner can reduce it to sound bites that the MSM will be able to understand.

    Emmer’s plan would cause cities all across the state to raise property taxes if they want to continue to have fire departments, police departments, water systems, street maintenance, etc. You know, all the stuff that make life livable in a first world country.

    So, Emmer’s plan WILL tax you more. He’s just not being honest about it.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2010 - 10:26 am.

    I hope people are beginning to realize that these references to family budgets and business operations are naive fantasy at best. Emmer’s strategy isn’t about running the government, and it would be no way to run a company. The only place Emmerism will run a government or a company is into the ground.

  17. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/15/2010 - 10:27 am.

    Thomas Swift writes
    “The thoughtful reader will recognize Tom’s budget plan immeidatly….it’s the same one most Minnesota families have adopted the past few years.”

    Not really. My budget has specific numbers for expenses like Mortgage, Daycare, Insurance. Emmer’s ‘targets’ imply that he’s going to negotiate those items. Fair enough. For instance, I could save money on daycare by sending my kids to a large chain thats operated like a puppy mill – but I find that I get better value for my dollar where my kids go now.

    Emmer needs to make the case for spending less to get less.

  18. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 09/15/2010 - 10:42 am.

    “The thoughtful reader will recognize Tom’s budget plan immediately….it’s the same one most Minnesota families have adopted the past few years.”

    I’ve been out of work before but the last things I considered cutting were my healthcare and education for my kids.

  19. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 09/15/2010 - 11:26 am.

    Comparing government to business or to family income and expenses is always misleading and inaccurate. Sometimes borrowing is exactly the right thing to do. Sometimes funds for a particular division is exactly the right thing to do to keep the company profitable. Sometimes hiring a gang of high-priced scientists is exactly the right thing to do.
    By the way, I have worked in multinational corporations and small business and in government agencies. Believe me, the mismanagement, redundancy, and plain ignorance has often made me wonder how these businesses stay in business at all. Or why.

  20. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 09/15/2010 - 01:10 pm.

    So we’ve been trying to cut our family spending on groceries, household maintenance, and car expenses. And you know, we’ve cut our spending on those things for a couple years now and it’s starting to show: things are starting to wear out, break down, and we’re eating a lot more cheap starchy carbs (at least we don’t look like we’re starving). So now we want to cut more.

    My wife asks me “Where?” I say groceries, household maintenance, and car expenses. She shows me the grocery list and asks “What should I cut?” I tell her “We’ll work that out at the checkout line.” She shows me the mileage to work and church, and asks me “What should I cut?” I say “We’ll figure that out at the gas station. She shows me the honey-do list and asks “What should I cut?” I say “We’ll figure it out at the mailbox when the bills come in.”

    Kinda sounds like putting off decisions until the end of the legislative session. ‘Course, then it’s not the Gov’s fault. They didn’t cut what they were supposed to cut.

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