A letter to Gov. Mark Dayton from the Republican Senate caucus seems to have made more remote the possibility of compromise on how to solve the state’s budget deficit.
The letter (PDF) — delivered to the governor Thursday — affirmed the position that Senate Republicans will not accept ANY form of tax increase to cut into the $6.2 billion budget.
“We write to make perfectly clear, however that we are all opposed to raising taxes to balance the 2012-2013 $6.2 billion deficit. We all are opposed to your budget that increases state spending …”
“It sounds like a no-new taxes pledge,”said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.
Indeed it does.
So where’s the compromise in that?
“Within a $32 billion budget, we’re absolutely willing to compromise,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch this morning at the GOP’s weekly wrap-up press briefing.
Dayton’s budget, of course, called for $37 billion in spending and tax increases on the wealthiest.
New economic forecast imminent
So here we are, two months into the session with three months to go and — with one exception — nothing seems to have changed.
The exception comes on Monday when a new economic forecast for the state will be released. Most expect a rosier revenue projection.
Republican House members even have a pool on how much rosier the outlook will be. Expectations for the forecast seeming to be counting on an increase in state revenues of anywhere from $256 million to $612 million.
Of course, even those optimistic numbers are just a chip out of the deficit boulder.
At a point in the session where one might have expected at least a rhetoric ceasefire, the Senate letter sounded like something from a campaign brochure.
It should be noted that House Republican leaders didn’t fire off a similar letter.
“It didn’t seem important,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, who heads the House Ways and Means Committee. “I’m not sure what’s up with the Senate.”
What is up?
“I don’t think the letter said anything that we haven’t been saying all along,” Koch said. “We wanted to make it clear, once again, that tax increases are not an option.”
Koch also said that the letter merely affirms the mandate she believes Republicans received from voters when they swept into control of the Legislature in November.
That suggestion of “mandate” irritated Bakk. He noted that Dayton won statewide election.
“We have a mandate,” too, Bakk said, “but Mark Dayton doesn’t go around pounding on his chest.”
In fact, at the moment Dayton released his budget, he said he understood that along the way there would be compromise.
Bakk suggested that the Senate letter might have been a way to force Republicans who might have been taking even tentative steps away from a no-new-taxes position back into the fundamental party line.
“Irresponsible,” said Bakk of the letter. (He also fired off his own letter on the subject.)
But it certainly got everyone’s attention at the Capitol back squarely on the budget.
Senate Republicans said they plan to call for a floor vote on Dayton’s tax increases by late next week.
Just how they will do that is a mystery.
Bakk pointed out that under the state Constitution, finance bills come from the House. At this point, House leaders have shown no inclination to take up the Dayton tax proposals in the next week.
Republicans in the Senate could attempt to attach Dayton’s tax proposals as an amendment to some other bill dealing with finances.
To have a vote on the Dayton tax plan would be strictly for show. Clearly, Republicans would vote the Dayton plan down.
But Republicans believe, probably correctly, that not even all DFLers would support Dayton’s plan.
This political game-playing does work both ways.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, for example, said that rather than writing letters, the Republican leadership should get to the business of showing Minnesota what its $32 billion budget would look like.
“The majority has been sitting on the sideline,” Thissen said. “It’s time for them to get in the game. If they think $32 billion is enough, they could have gotten that done months ago.”
It is Thissen’s belief that once Minnesotans see what sort of cuts a $32 billion budget would contain, they will rise up in opposition to a cuts-only budget.
It should be noted, that Koch and Sen. Geoff Michel were doing their best not to make the Republican no-new-taxes issue personal. Michel said the Republican leaders have “enjoyed” their meetings with the governor and that communications have been open.
Three almost-major bills — alternative teacher licensure, lifting the ban on construction of nuclear power plants and a bill streamlining the permitting process for business construction — may be headed to Dayton’s desk this week. Republican leaders have worked with Dayton on those bills and, Michel said, they have hopes Dayton will sign all three.
But, Michel added, “the window is closing” on all issues other than the budget.
As the window closes, the Capitol is heating up.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.