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Ready to be governor, Dayton looks ahead to legislative session

With Mark Dayton poised to be Minnesota’s next governor, will the 2011 legislative session be a version of the immoveable force and the irresistible object – the governor insisting on some tax increases to balance the budget and the legislative GOP majority insisting on cuts and redesign to take down the $6.2 billion deficit gorilla?

Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Mark Dayton

Dayton is sanguine. “They will reject my proposal and they will come with their alternatives,” he said. “They will have to face the impact that will have on teachers, children, the elderly, the disabled. Then they will come back to the table to find the middle ground.”

Not that Dayton is drawing a line in the sand. In our interview Tuesday, he stated frequently that nothing is “dead on arrival,” that “whatever their good ideas are, I will combine with mine.”

In fact, Dayton seemed keen on reform proposals and offered one of his own. He’s met with executives from Accenture and Price Waterhouse who, he says, have worked with Democratic and Republican state governments, getting paid as a percentage of the savings they identify.

He’d like them to do the same for Minnesota. “That is something we would initiate in the very beginning,” he said. “We’ll put an RFP [request for proposal] to ask for that kind of help — to find the best practices that we can adopt in Minnesota. I think there’s a great opportunity there.”

Dayton remains firm on several budget principles he offered during the campaign. He will push for a state income tax increase that he says will make the structure less regressive. Dayton says that in the mid-1990s, Minnesota had a virtual flat tax of 12.2 percent — that is, in income, sales and property taxes, most wage earners were paying about 12 percent of their income. The system since then, he maintains, has favored the highest wage earners, who as a percentage of their income, now pay the least amount in taxes.

“Under my plan [to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans] the rich would still be paying a smaller percentage of their income than they did under Arne Carlson,” he said. He admits it will not be popular (“There are no political gains in tax increases”), but necessary to correct long-term and future budget problems.

A second Dayton principle is to keep the budget hawks away from local aid. He calls the Tim Pawlenty pledge of no new taxes “mythology” because it resulted in property tax increases.

“How do you sever the fiscal relationship between the state and local governments — you can’t,” he said.

Dayton wants a budget plan that will be transparent, “no gimmicks. We’re going to do this squarely, openly,” although he stopped short of promising to pay back all the accounting shifts that helped balance previous budgets.

Feb. 15 is the deadline for the governor to submit his budget to the Legislature. Dayton is prepared for wholesale rejection. So, he says, he will ask legislators to deliver their budget by May 1. “That will give them two and half months to face the reality of what cutting 6.2 billion dollars means,” he says. “Even with half tax increases, this will be painful.”

Then, Dayton, said, legislators and the governor’s office can sit down and negotiate and end the legislative session on time.

Dayton is expected to make some staff announcements soon that will be key in getting the process started, which, he says, will come not a moment too soon.

“Minnesotans are concerned and properly impatient,” he said. “I think that’s why was there was this split decision in November. I think people said, ‘Let’s try it the other way — a DFL governor and a GOP Legislature.’ Their tolerance for political failure is zero.”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/08/2010 - 09:56 am.

    //He admits it will not be popular (“There are no political gains in tax increases”),

    He has stop saying this. In fact this tax increase is supported by the majority of Minnesotan’s.

  2. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/08/2010 - 11:42 am.

    Paul has a good point. Dayton ran on a tax increase, and won. Horner ran on different tax increases, but still increases, and between them they got 56%.

    I don’t know if the public grasps how tough it’s going to be to make up even half the shortfall through cuts. The DFL gubernatorial candidates tried to say that, Dayton never said otherwise, and DFL legislators have been warning the cuts will be bad, but the Republicans haven’t exactly helped prepare the public for how nasty it’s going to get.

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 12/08/2010 - 12:22 pm.

    I think Mark Dayton was speaking in general terms. The only way you can make tax increases look good is when you follow 8 years of utter incompetence in the governor’s mansion, which coincidentally, he does.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/08/2010 - 01:02 pm.

    Paul U–
    The fact that people say (in a poll) that a tax increase is a good idea doesn’t mean that they will be happy when one is put through and they have to pay for it (people always want someone ELSE to pay extra taxes, or give up something in spending cuts).
    I suspect that Dayton is correct in the sense that a tax increase will not in fact help him politically.

  5. Submitted by Rod Loper on 12/08/2010 - 01:03 pm.

    I agree. Dayton and the democrats need to hammer on the fact that the majority of the voters support taxes as part of the solution. Pawlenty got away with claiming the minority position he held on taxes represented the will of the people.
    Let’s hope that is over.

  6. Submitted by andy on 12/08/2010 - 01:47 pm.

    It’s not gonna be over. The Republicans are going to have to learn to govern- something the MNGOP, at present, is fundamentally unsuited to do. Every budget the DFL Legislature sent to Pawlenty was a blend of spending reductions and tax increases- AND they were balanced because they are legally obligated to balance the budget.

    See, the thing is, if the MNGOP tries to balance the budget by breaking public employees, renegeing on pension agreements, slashing social services, and letting infrastructure deteriorate even more, the screaming they’re gonna hear is going to come from their own districts.

    And it’s not going to be coming just out of the people on the bottom, people nobody give a damn about anyway- it’s gonna come out of the vast majority of people who used to be middle class- frightened and angry to discover they are sliding backwards…

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/08/2010 - 04:56 pm.

    This is a better piece, Cyndy. Not as reverential, but perhaps that’s because the subject is DFL instead of GOP? No matter, it’s less reverential, and that’s to the good.

    I wondered during the campaign why ANYONE would run for the Governor’s office in the current fiscal environment. No matter who won, the results would be painful for the public, and equally painful for the Governor. As has been suggested above, while the public may be prepared for tax increases in the abstract, R.T. Ryback’s recent experience with proposed tax increases in Minneapolis illustrates why, when the proposals become specific, lots of people find reasons to object to righting the state’s fiscal ship using THEIR dollars.

    I think Dayton has a thankless task, and wish him well. That’s true of Tom Emmer, too. Had he been elected, he’d have found that ideology doesn’t govern well, and now that he’s officially not going to be Governor, I wish him well, also. He rose several steps in my estimation by his conduct and rhetoric during the recount.

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