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.”
“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.
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.