As budget deadlines approach, media peppering GOP leaders with more and more pointed questions

Kurt Zellers

Kurt Zellers

Back and forth the reporter and the House Speaker went.

“Will abortion bills come to the floor during the budget process?” the reporter asked.

“We’re focusing on the budget,” Speaker Kurt Zellers said.

“Does that mean abortion bills [that Zellers has co-sponsored] won’t come to the floor during the budget process?’’

“We’re focusing on the budget,” Zellers said.

The reporter was not impressed. She kept asking if two abortion bills in the Republican hopper will make an appearance while legislative Republicans are finalizing their all-cuts budget.

“If you keep asking about abortion,” Zellers said, “I’ll keep answering, ‘We’re focused on the budget.’ ”

He paused.

“But I can’t say, definitively, what we’ll deal with.”

That’s a big but.

As the process moves closer to the Republicans’ self-imposed March 25 deadline of having all committee budget bills completed, the questions are getting more and more pointed:

• Is this an anti-city session?

• Is there time for public input in the next few days on huge policy-budget issues?

• Is much-talked-about reform really going to be a part of this budget package?

Amy Koch

Amy Koch

Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch danced as best they could this morning.

Local aid, integration funds targeted
Take the anti-city questions. Republicans, who have targeted Local Government Aid as a way to cut into the state’s $5 billion deficit, appear to be dancing around this issue by trying to protect “their territories” by zeroing out aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth in longer-term budgets, while preserving aid for rural communities, and, inexplicably, the city of Rochester, which has enjoyed huge growth and relative prosperity in the last decade.

Not surprisingly, big-city mayors have balked at this proposal.

Isn’t this anti-city?

“No,” Zellers said. He went on to say that LGA, formed 30 years ago, was meant to help communities with low tax bases provide basic services.

So how is it that booming Rochester is exempted from the big cuts and less-prosperous Duluth is not?

“I haven’t seen the bill yet,” said Zellers.

There are other pieces of legislation that would seem to be particularly hurtful to the cities coming down the legislative highway. A big one would come out of the House Education Committee that would eliminate integration funding from the amount paid, on a per-pupil basis, to the school districts. Obviously, the big losers in this proposal would be the two most diverse districts, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

So is this not anti-city?

Koch said that it’s not. School districts, such as Rockford, also receive the addition integration funding she said.

“Integration money goes statewide,” Koch said. “It doesn’t affect just the cities.”

Then, she turned to the Republican mantra about school funding.

“A kid is a kid is a kid” goes the mantra. And it means that there should be equitable funding for school districts across the state. This would be a huge shift in policy.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, who heads the House Education Committee, said that it’s clear by the huge testing disparities between minority kids and white kids that the integration funds aren’t having an impact.

Earlier this week, he noted that Minnesota kids of color lag such states as Alabama in terms of performance.

“We expect Minnesota to lose to Alabama in football, not reading,” Garofalo said.

His answer about what to do with integration funds is expected to be:  Disperse those dollars across the state.

Sen. Terrri Bonoff, a Senate minority leader, said this morning that she agrees with Garofalo that it’s clear the funds aren’t working.  But, she said, the discussion shouldn’t be about dumping the aid from the basic funding. Rather, she said, it should be about using those dollars more effectively.

But so far that discussion has not been held.

Too fast a track?
Which brings up the next point: DFLers say that the Republican process, which involves having their budget pieces in place by midnight next Friday, is so fast-track that there’s no time for meaningful committee hearings.

Republican leaders, rightfully, have a field day with this complaint.

“It’s such an interesting criticism,” said Koch. “At first, they [DFLers] were saying, ‘Where’s your budget? Where’s your budget?’ Now they’re saying, ‘Oh my goodness, you’re moving too fast.’ ”

What of reform? Especially in the House, “reform” has been an oft-repeated refrain.  It’s not heard so often in the Senate.

This morning the two leaders, who usually are in lockstep, seemed to offer different views of the impact that reform efforts will have on this session.

Koch said many reform issues will be put off until next year, when legislators have time to analyze them. This session is “focused on the budget.”

She did say, however, that “reform” is as big an issue with her colleagues as it is with Republicans in the House.

“They have Rep. [Keith] Downey,’’ said Koch. “He’s a reform machine.”

Zellers laughed at that comment.

“He shares his ideas with everybody,” he said.

At that point, Koch seemed to back off her suggestion that reform will be an issue for next session.

“You’ll see reform as part of our budget,” she said.

Zellers said reform will be a part of the House budget proposals.  Earlier in the week, he noted that reform was a large part of what helped Republicans sweep into the majority.

But the closer the Republicans get to their own budget deadlines, the less savings they seem to be promising in those reforms.

“We’re very optimistic about some of the reforms,” Zellers said.

How much will those reforms amount to on the bottom line?

“Small savings in the short run,” he said, “but big savings down the line.”

“Down the line” is coming fast. Republicans are working hard, holding committee meetings through this weekend, as they put together proposals that face a bleak future when they arrive on the governor’s desk.

But, one more time, will other controversial, issues pop up on the floors of the House or Senate in the next few weeks?

They’re focused on the budget, the two leaders said.

But Zellers added a “but.”

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

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by David Greene on 03/18/2011 - 03:33 pm.

    Of course there’s no time for public input. I know multiple people who have tried to contact both Zellers and Koch. They are constituents. Not only did they not get a meeting, they didn’t even get a response.

    There should be headlines about this kind of thing in the papers.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/18/2011 - 03:58 pm.

    It looks as if Governor Dayton is going to need an entire collection of veto pens to stop this train to nowhere.

    Not only will he have to veto their budget bills, but I have EVERY confidence that they’ll pass a dozen or so far rightwing bills on everything ranging from abortion restrictions and gay marriage rejections, to wiping out teacher collective bargaining rights and any and all taxes on those making more than $1 million a year just because those folks prove, by their extreme wealth, that they way too awesome to have to pay taxes.

    Indeed, the rest of us should be bowing before them and daily paying them homage for being SO superior to us mere mortals.

    As Tevia sings, “When you’re rich, they think you really know.” (even when you’re as clueless as the Howells of “Giligan’s Island”).

  3. Submitted by craig furguson on 03/18/2011 - 04:04 pm.

    They can pass whatever bills they want, but they still have to get by Dayton. After the first round of vetos, we should have a clearer idea of where we are at.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/18/2011 - 04:12 pm.

    “…a politician’s values are only discernible through their application in policy. Moral action takes knowledge and effort; intention is not enough.” — “The New Republic,” October 30, 2000.

    We’ll know a lot more about the values of Minnesota Republicans after March 25th – and Democrats, too…

  5. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 03/18/2011 - 04:36 pm.

    House Veterans Affairs Division cancelled their Monday meeting next week. So are they going to do the budget in the closet where no one can watch? Veterans Affairs is now part of the Government Ops Committee, and their budget targets have the largest slashes of any of the committees. 33 percent or 55 percent, depending on if you’re looking at House or Senate version.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/18/2011 - 04:44 pm.

    It’s certainly not contradictory to ask “where is the budget” and then “why is the budget coming without hearings”.

    The issue is participatory democracy. The opportunity to have input into the legislative process in a respectful considered manner.

    There are many countries in the world where input into the legislative process is not allowed. However, those are places where “democracy” is not democracy.

    The playing of word games does not remove the fact that the Republican’s default approach is profoundly undemocratic–with a small “d”.

    As it is clear from Wisconsin, the Tea Partiers(faux or not) are not the only ones who are able to raise a ruckus.

  7. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 03/18/2011 - 09:08 pm.

    Equitable funding does not mean “same” funding. It’s a simple mantra, so it sounds great at first. With any sort of examination at all it is ridiculous.

    If one of your children needs glasses, do you buy them all glasses so that it is equal? That would be stupid.

    I have high school students, many, that less than three years ago moved out of refugee camp tents for the first times in their lives. Their entire childhood spent in tents. Can you imagine?

    These kids need a little extra help and support, not 40 or 50 in one classroom so we can even out the funding.

  8. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/18/2011 - 09:38 pm.

    It would be astounding if some bills not dealing with the budget didn’t come to the floor in the next few weeks since there are only about 8 weeks left in the (regular) session. If someone would introduce the Governor’s budget it too could be making it’s way through committees. This isn’t rocket science, it is a budget. It shouldn’t even take this long. Seriously, almost all of you know that whatever budget gets sent to the Governor will be vetoed, so spare us all the indignation about having a voice in a document destined for the trash can. And, doubly seriously, the bills being discussed now are getting waaayyyy more time than the one smashed together one-half hour before the session close by sleep-deprived legislators waiting for the backroom deal to be presented for a vote.

  9. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 03/19/2011 - 05:24 am.

    Speaking of recent Republican proposals, here is one I’ve not yet seen anywhere in the local news, though it is apparently getting some attention from national blogs (leftish ones, it seems):

    I would love to see more balanced coverage of this issue (or just more local coverage). I think this is the relevent text:

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/19/2011 - 06:34 am.

    I thought it was a mistake for the DFL to make an issue of the timing of the GOP budget, and this article suggests on of those reasons. That is, it’s more important for a budget to be given a hearing, then it is to be decided at any given time, and making an issue of timing undermines that point which is what happened above. Also, the fact is, the DFL didn’t have their budget ready at this stage two years ago when they were in charge, a point brought up to Deb Hillstrom at a recent press conference in which she crashed and burned. A third point is that the timing issue is self correcting. It’s a problem up until the moment it isn’t, and when the GOP does get around to proposing a budget, the issue vanishes completely. What’s the point of talking about partisan issues now, which won’t be issues of any kind in the next election?

  11. Submitted by Chris Steele on 03/19/2011 - 07:19 am.

    I would be (a) refreshing and (b) enlightening if someone would ask the GOP’s intent vis-a-vis the structural deficit.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/19/2011 - 08:00 am.

    I wish everyone would stop pretending that regression is reform. The Republicans are “reforming” us back to the 19th century.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/19/2011 - 08:49 am.

    It’s nice to see the media is finally asking questions, but where are the stories? I’m not seeing anything in newspapers, and we’ll never see anything on TV. Unless you read Minnpost you wouldn’t have any idea this is going on. Now why exactly is that?

  14. Submitted by David Zarkin on 03/19/2011 - 01:56 pm.

    Irony here: Hapless Minnesotans elected these people to create jobs and gin up the economy. Bottom line: They are set to destroy any hope that we’ll climb out of the Great Recession with their massive budget cuts. Reporters should have asked when will they introduce the bill to outlaw gay marriages.
    Zellers is not ready for prime time. He stood naked before the media with the “abortion bill” pummeling. So the promised reform awaits the next session while we deal with guns, union busting and abortions. Hot damn!

  15. Submitted by David Greene on 03/19/2011 - 08:59 pm.

    I hope the media asks the Republicans why the House transportation committee just introduced a bill to cut all state general funds that go to transit. How is this good for anyone?

    It’s absolute insanity up on the hill. We need headlines about it!

  16. Submitted by Joe Booher on 03/20/2011 - 12:14 am.

    I’m wondering if DFL lawmakers finally realize the true nature of what they are dealing with yet in the Republican leadership of the state house and senate. Do DFL’ers still think the that the GOP looks at them simply as “opponents”? They don’t. They look at the DFL as an evil enemy, and they craft their game plan accordingly. We are in an era of “domination politics”, and the GOP is better at it than the DFL. I’m pretty sure social issue bills are intentionally placed distractors designed to gobble up the political debate oxygen so everyone is good and winded when the real fights come along.

  17. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/20/2011 - 07:15 pm.

    Good Evening,
    I am a blogger who is just a bit right of center. This group seems far enough Left to help me answer a question I have posed to my Liberal readers… G2A How to Promote Effectiveness?

    If you do not like controlling the budget? (manage and slow growth, ~ CPI)

    How would you proposed we citizens promote wise prioritization and year after year productivity gains from our Government/Social systems?

    I truly believe that we could double their budget and they would find “good” ways to spend it all.

    An example in Schools, exactly how many foreign languages need to be offered? Or exactly how many bike paths do we need in out state MN? Or why is the Public supporting radio broadcasts? Or why is the DNR buying land for wildlife habitat?

    Please answer here or over at Give2Attain. Thanks John

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