GOP notebook: Watching tax committees, women in the Legislature and Norm Coleman’s China visit

Minnesota House Republicans hewed to tradition in one aspect of their re-organization. The committee chairs announced the other day were largely appointed on the basis of seniority and experience on the committees they now head.

Over the next couple of weeks, Capitol observers will be paying attention to the committee vice chairs. A name that keeps surfacing for the House Tax Committee, now headed by Greg Davids, is Keith Downey. A senior legislative staffer says Downey is on a short list to be vice chair of the committee.

A good question for all tax committee members is: It’s likely there won’t be tax increases or tax cuts, so what does a tax committee do?

The answer from one-time tax committee chair Phil Krinkie, now president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, is “do nothing.”

Phil Krinkie
Phil Krinkie

“You don’t have to have a tax bill,” he said. “I would advocate for no change in the 2011 session, if for one reason only — 25 percent of the people sworn in are new.”

Krinkie says legislators will have enough of a challenge on the spending side of the budget, closing a $6 billion gap without tackling changes in the tax code. 

Still, there will be changes the tax committee likely will make (changes in the formula for local government aid or LGA) and would like to make (reducing the corporate tax rate over time).

Krinkie is tempted by reforms in LGA and continues to advocate a reduction in aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth to be replaced by increases in local sales taxes, subjected to referenda.

“Certainly I would concur with anybody that communities have services and situations where they are disadvantaged in their property tax base,” he said. “This would make the playing field more level.”

But Krinkie maintains there’s plenty of work for the Legislature to do without changing the tax code. “Maybe we should save the Legislature and public the angst and anguish about what a better tax code would look like and hopefully get out of Dodge by the middle of May instead of the middle of July.”

Women in leadership jobs
A Minnesota Senate staffer points out that the top five leadership positions in the new GOP majority are now held by women, and include two firsts. Amy Koch is the first female majority leader in the Senate and Julianne Ortman is the first female tax chair. Rounding out the top five are Claire Robling, chair of the finance committee; Gen Olson, chair of the education committee who now oversees more than one third of the state budget; and Michelle Fischbach, president of the Senate.

What’s Norm Coleman up to?
Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman made a 7,000-mile jump from GOP election victories to foreign policy. Coleman has just returned from a nine-day trip to China with three other former senators, courtesy of the Chinese government looking to influence U.S. investors.

Norm Coleman
Norm Coleman

Coleman and Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Wy Fowler from Georgia and Gordon Smith of Oregon (two Democrats and two Republicans, Coleman noted) were given a good dose of Chinese salesmanship on why Americans should become business partners. “They have a Communist system and a capitalist mentality,” Coleman said.

The Chinese approach was interesting, he explained. The group toured the major commerce and government centers of Beijing and Shanghai (which Coleman describes as looking like Orbit City, the setting for the cartoon series “The Jetsons”). Then they were shown another side of Chinese life, Guizhou Province, home of 39 million people (“bigger than the state of California!”), one of China’s poorest provinces. “The people earn one dollar a day,” Coleman said.

Guizhou is also rich in natural resources and promotes its timber, forestry and mining industries. “This is why they’re encouraging visits from American officials.” Coleman said a delegation of former U.S. admirals was scheduled to follow this visit.

While he met with the governor of Guizhou and the Chinese foreign minister, Coleman said his most intriguing meetings were with students during visits to several Guizhou universities. He said the students were interested in what he calls the American spirit and “how do you describe the American spirit? That was what they wanted to talk about.” That, and their desire to attend graduate school in the United States. 

Coleman apparently faced no Chinese censorship because of frank remarks he made about the Chinese system of higher education. “I told them about a conversation I had with Bill Gates,” he said. “I asked him when the Chinese education system would overtake ours, and he replied, ‘Not soon.'”

Coleman said he explained to students the tradition, hundreds of years, of U.S. higher education and how clear it was to him that China had far to go.

His comments on Chinese universities reflected observations on the mission overall: “There are great opportunities but there are great challenges.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misquoted Norm Coleman on the income earned by workers in Guizhou Province. Coleman said workers earn $1 a day.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 11/19/2010 - 10:23 am.

    If Gov. Dayton draws a line in the sand and flat out states, very early and very clearly, that he will veto any budget bill that does not include some tax increases to balance the budget, then the tax committees WILL have things to do.

    If Dayton does that — and I hope he does — that will certainly cause GOP legislators to whine and mope about a governor who refuses to compromise.

    Perhaps then Dayton could gently remind them that he’s just following the tradition established by his predecessor.

    I hope Dayton has the guts to do that. I hope he takes the state to the brink of a shutdown, or even *into* a shutdown if necessary, to show that he means business. To show that the “no new taxes” mantra is destroying our state.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/19/2010 - 11:24 am.

    ….A good question for all tax committee members is: It’s likely there won’t be tax increases or tax cuts, so what does a tax committee do?

    The answer from one-time tax committee chair Phil Krinkie, now president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, is “do nothing.”….

    Let’s see, a large majority of voters voted for a governor which either would raise the income tax or increase revenue through a revised sales tax. Considering that the combined total of Dayton and Horner votes emphatically beat Emmer (55% to 43%), I would say that the people want something different than “do nothing”.

  3. Submitted by Patricia Gundersen on 11/19/2010 - 01:34 pm.

    Who paid for Norm’s trip to China? He isn’t presidential material, so why is the soon to be ex-govenor taking such expensive trips??? How self serving! Bye-bye Normie.

  4. Submitted by Adam Minter on 11/19/2010 - 05:31 pm.

    During the course of my eight years in China I have heard many dumb things come from the mouths of visiting American politicians, but Coleman’s: “The people earn one dollar a year,” sets an entirely new standard. Perhaps the quote was taken out of context, in which case I hope that the context can be restored. But if not I can only marvel at Coleman’s uncritical gullibility in the face of a CCP propaganda onslaught designed to make him sympathetic to the country’s trade practices (“we can’ press for currency revaluation, the people in Guizhou only make one dollar PER YEAR!”). Breathtakingly stupid.

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