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Hot with hockey analogies, GOP and DFL legislators already are skating in opposite directions

Minnesota’s House GOP caucus today made its top priorities streamlining regulations and creating “priority-based” budgeting. Senate Republicans are opting for cutting corporate taxes. DFLers, meanwhile, want to focus on a bonding bill.

Hot with hockey analogies, GOP and DFL legislators already are skating in opposite directions

There were hockey analogies. There were rookie legislators, including “our Wayne Gretzky.” There were sweeping campaign-like statements.

But in a somewhat surprising development, the first two files introduced by the new Republican House leadership sounded more like the sort of concepts that might be discussed at a Chamber of Commerce roundtable discussion than the specific, budget-cutting proposals most might have expected.

In fact, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen noted that the priorities included in the first Republican legislative salvo are exactly the priorities forwarded by the chamber.

“There’s nothing to help 209,000 Minnesotans who are out of work find a job,” said Thissen.

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What the House Republicans are offering up in their first crack at leadership are bills that would:

1. Streamline the regulation process in Minnesota.

 2. Create “priority-based” budgeting.

Kurt Zellers
Kurt Zellers

“We are fulfilling our commitment to Minnesotans,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers of these opening bills that he says will improve the job climate in Minnesota.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about these bills, which seemed a little on the squishy side, was the fact that they were introduced by two Republican freshmen, Rep. Dan Fabian, from the northwestern corner of the state, and Rep. King Banaian of St. Cloud.

Fabian, noted Zellers, is a longtime hockey coach. Banaian, a St. Cloud University economics prof, is the newcomer who was hailed as “our Wayne Gretzky” by Zellers.

A few minutes after receiving that praise, Banaian confessed that he can’t skate.

Neither of these bills, it should be noted, does anything to deal immediately with the big problem most believe this Legislature is dealing with: a $6.2 billion budget deficit.

But Zellers, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, Fabian and Banaian all said that these bills do, indirectly, take on the jobs issue in Minnesota.

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The concept of the bills, it should be noted, was not attacked by DFLers. In fact, DFL minority leaders said that there may be merit to both of these bills. And, during the campaign, Gov. Mark Dayton seemed to be supportive of some of what Republicans are proposing.

Fabian, who will travel with the governor to northwestern Minnesota on Tuesday, is the legislator whose name is on the streamlining bill.

Under House File 1, the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources would establish “a goal” of issuing permits within 150 days to new and expanding businesses.

Fabian says that goal is important to keeping businesses in Minnesota. His bill also would contain other streamlining factors, including a provision that seemingly would not allow Minnesota to have more stringent air, water and hazardous waste requirements than those required by the federal requirements or border states.

Banaian’s bill on priority budgeting is huge. Over a 10-year period, every mandate and rule of every state agency would be reviewed by the legislative auditor and, ultimately, the Legislature. The idea is noble: Get rid of all unnecessary mandates and rules.

“Priority-based budgeting aligns spending to performance,” Banian said. “It focuses on service level and results, not solely on individual agency or activity. We will budget for the state like Minnesota familes do: Know our income, set priorities and spend accordingly rather than spending and then seeking more money to cover it.”

Theoretically, under the Banian plan, agencies would be required not only to justify their existence but also the existence of each of their rules.

“No doubt it’s a lot of work,” the prof said, “but it’s what we owe the people of Minnesota.”

 Thissen said the Banian plan is a nice idea but constitutes legislative overkill. Thissen pointed to the Department of Corrections. The state, he said, is not going to do away with prisons, so why should the state make the department justify its existence.

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But the big problem DFLers saw with the two bills is that they do nothing immediately to help create jobs or take on the budget deficit.

Overall, however, the DFLers had a hard time getting too worked up over the Republican proposals for the House.

In fact, Rep. Tom Rukavina spent his time criticizing one of the Senate priorities announced earlier in the day by the new Republican majority, a priority to eliminate the corporate income tax.

That proposal, said Rukavina, does nothing to help save cash-starved “ma-and-pa businesses in Minnesota.” And there’s no proof that eliminating the corporate income tax will “create a single job,” he said.

DFLers immediately want to talk about a bonding bill, which, they say, is the fastest way to get people back to work.

But Zellers insisted that the first two House Files are about jobs.

“They will make Minnesota a better place to do business.” And that, he says, ultimately will create more jobs.

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