Capitol mood gets feisty as Dayton, others lash out at GOP budget fix, LGA cuts and pension changes

Gov. Mark Dayton

MinnPost/James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton

The heat’s rising inside the Capitol. Bills and proposals are moving faster. Words are getting feistier.

All of this, and we’re just halfway through the legislative session.

Republican measures in the last few days include plans to:

• Eliminate all Local Government Aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth and metro suburbs by 2015.

• Require public employees to put 3 percent more of their checks into their pension programs.

This will soon be followed by legislative proposals that would all but eliminate the right of teachers to strike.

Faster and faster it’s coming.

Words of compromise between the Republican legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton still are being expressed, but they seem more and more hollow.

Dayton this morning held a press conference to belittle the tax decrease House members say they want to “give” to low-income and middle-class wage earners in the state.

Dayton ridicules GOP tax plan
Although his words were spoken calmly, they were filled with ridicule for the plan.

“They can’t help themselves,” said Dayton in talking about an income tax plan that he says would benefit the wealthy more than the lowest-paid.

Dayton offered a chart to support his words. Under the House plan to decrease income tax rates, families with an income of $30,000 to $49,000 would see their taxes drop by $26. Families with incomes of between $250,000 and $499,000 would see a reduction of $206.

“I don’t know if they don’t understand, or they do understand and they just don’t care,” said Dayton.

Then he went after the budget targets announced last week by the Republican leadership.

If the Department of Natural Resources’ budget is cut by 20 percent, it would require such things as the closing of seven state parks, he said. If the Department of Agriculture’s budget is cut by 15 percent, it would doom such things as the state’s meat inspection program.

“This is really destructive to the sort of debate we should be having,” the governor said.

In a letter to House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, Dayton pleads for hearings with agency heads and the public.

“I know that some of your members do care about the services state agencies provide to their constituents; they may be unaware of the consequences of your proposed severe funding reductions. … I believe it is your minimal responsibility to assure that all of your members are made aware of those drastic effects, before they vote to impose them on state agencies, on their staffs and on the people of Minnesota.”

Republicans repeatedly have said that all of their committees will have hearings before coming up with specific budget recommendations by March 25.

DFLers doubt that Republicans will have time to hold meaningful hearings.

The governor also attacked a Republican plan, announced late Friday, to eliminate LGA to Minneapolis and St. Paul while continuing it for rural cities. (Perhaps it’s only coincidence that the cities send DFLers to the Legislature, while many rural communities are represented by Republicans.)

In meetings with mayors of both cities and small towns last week, Dayton said, he was assured that the mayors would not accept the divide-and-conquer LGA proposals of the Republicans.

He scoffed at the idea that Republicans tied a property-tax freeze to the LGA proposal. He called such actions an effort by Republican legislators to “micro-manage” the affairs of local governments.

In his meeting, he also made it clear he will oppose Republican desires to all but eliminate the possibility of strikes by teachers — and a new plan, announced this morning, that would require public employees to put 3 percent more of their paychecks into their pensions.

Yet, after all of his softly spoken tough words — “barbaric” and “drastic” — he refused to say that he was pessimistic about working with Republicans to negotiate a compromise to close the $5 billion deficit by the end of the session.

“I’m prepared to do what’s necessary [to conclude the session by May 23],” Dayton said. “But it takes two to tango.”

He compared his position to being in one end zone of a football field while the Republicans are in the opposite end zone.

“I’m not walking from my end zone to their end zone,” he said. Rather, he suggested a meeting at midfield.

But, for the moment, the Republicans seem to be showing no desire to tango or leave their end zone.

If anything, they’re throwing up more and more stuff that is sure to inflame the DFL base — and perhaps even some moderates in the state.

Pension proposal irks union head
For example, this morning, Sen. Mike Parry and a rookie, Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, held a news conference to announce a plan that would force public employees to pay 3 percent more of their wages to fund their pensions.

This proposal — certainly headed for veto if it moves through the legislative bodies — had Elliot Seide, head of AFSCME, spitting fire.

During the last legislative session, he noted public workers had worked with the governor and the Legislature to modify the state pension to put it on solid ground. Unlike Wisconsin workers, Minnesota public employees already pay 5 percent of their earnings to their pensions.

Public workers, Seide said, “are everyday heroes” who plow roads, take care of the sick, stock lakes with walleyes.

On average, he said, AFSCME workers are paid $38,000 a year, and the Parry-Hoffman proposal would be like a 3 percent wage hit. Their pensions, on average, are less than $24,000 a year.

“Everyday heroes shouldn’t be treated like beasts,” said Seide.

Seide lambasted the Republicans for “working so hard” to protect the state’s wealthiest from paying “the same rate as middle-class Minnesotans” while trying to take another 3 percent from public employees.

“Shameful,” he said.

Hoffman, however, is not ashamed.

“There’s a funny saying,” she said. “You can ask the question: ‘Where do the wealthy live?’ The answer: ‘Anywhere they want.’ We don’t want the job producers leaving the state.”

Sen. David Thompson, another first-year Republican who stood with Hoffman and Parry in support of their pension bill, wasn’t ashamed, either.

“It’s obvious that Seide is angry,” Thompson said. “But anger doesn’t fix the problem.”

DFL legislators noted that none of those Republicans introducing the plan had spent any time on the state’s pension commission, although Parry now sits on the commission.  There is not a problem that needs fixing, the DFLers said. That was done last session in a bipartisan fashion and with input from public employee unions.

The next two weeks are expected to be filled with more fiery rhetoric as Republicans flesh out their all-cuts budget and DFLer anger mounts.

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 (10)

  1. Submitted by scott cantor on 03/14/2011 - 02:31 pm.

    >>Hoffman, however, is not ashamed. “There’s a funny saying,” she said. “You can ask the question: ‘Where do the wealthy live?’ The answer: ‘Anywhere they want.’ We don’t want the job producers leaving the state.”<< It's too late!! I just drove past the airport, and there was a three mile long line of limousines backed up onto Highway 5. Whatever are we going to do now? There will be NO ONE LEFT to create jobs in Minnesota. Please, please, take more money, Dear Job Producers. Take my car, take my house, take my cat even! From here on out, we're absolutely willing to shoulder our fair share of the burden (us: all, you: none). Just turn your limos around and come back to us, we beg of you.

  2. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 03/14/2011 - 03:34 pm.

    Just what jobs are these purported “job producers” producing? I’ve not read of any surge in employment in this state. I keep reading of layoffs.

    Just because the wealthy can “live anywhere they want” doesn’t mean they’ll move, toting with them their factories or big businesses. More likely, they’ll stay here, where they’re fawned over as big shots — or move to sunny, low-income-tax states — while shipping off their companies’ jobs to China.

    Government workers didn’t cause a near-collapse of the U.S. economy. It was caused by the same high rollers who claim that paying at least the same proportion of their incomes in taxes as the middle class does somehow is unfair and will drive them out.

    Well, they’re lucky they hve control of the Legislature. We wouldn’t want people with incomes over $250,000 to suffer.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/14/2011 - 04:56 pm.

    …Republicans repeatedly have said that all of their committees will have hearings before coming up with specific budget recommendations by March 25….

    I think I have the same calendar as most others in this state, including Republicans, and on my calendar the 25th is 8 working days away.

    If one really cared about the topic, they would have a couple days to consider the testimony from the hearings before being able to come up with final recommendations, IF there were even mild changes expected.

    But no, massive changes contemplated with little time for hearings and little if any time for deliberation.

    Yup, that’s how democracy works for the Republicans.

    Is that the “we’re number 1” finger they have in the air or is it a different finger?

  4. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 03/14/2011 - 05:59 pm.

    So it’s 8 days before deadline for legislative budgets, and what does Sen Vandeveer’s Senate Govt Ops committee do today? They spend their committee time watching a video on requiring ID cards for voting, and listen to Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer and Dan McGrath talk about changing voting requirements. At the end of the cheesy there is clapping, and Sen. Vandeveer needs to remind the observers in the committee room that clapping in the meeting is inappropriate.

    So a tax cut might give me pocket change of $26 or $206 a year more? What will I do with that, create some jobs? Or would I prefer to keep the state meat inspection program, so I don’t need to worry about my child or my elderly parent getting fatally ill from eating tainted meat?

    I remember that Gov. Pawlenty implemented a cost saving measure in 2003, that netted me an extra nickel every two years by dual-hatting the Lt. Governor as the Transportation Commissioner. That annual cost savings in excess of $100K allowed my husband and I to pool our money and have 20 cents between us before the I-35 bridge fell down in August 2007. After that, we the people of Minnesota decided saving a nickel every two years wasn’t so important, and we hired a full time dedicated Transportation Commissioner. We also set up a fund to reimburse the injured survivors and the families of the victims. The $40Million fund means that each Minnesotan contributed close to $10. So a nickel now in the pocket so I can give up $10 later doesn’t seem like such a good deal

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/14/2011 - 06:07 pm.

    Remember when the Republicans were SCREAMING about the Obama Administration and the (at the time) Democratic Congress “cramming the health care bill down the American people’s throats?”

    That was after weeks of hearings and many days to read and examine the entire bill.

    As has been said before, you can always tell what “conservatives” will do, if given the chance, by what they accuse their opponents of doing (which those opponents haven’t and wouldn’t do).

    So, of course, they intend to try to cram all these spending cuts, moronic and misguided policy changes, and further tax cuts for the wealthy “down our throats,” even though they know that Governor Dayton will do exactly what they’re forcing him to do, wipe the slate clean and force them to start over.

    Then, like the petulant school children they are, who refused to listen to the teacher, refused to follow instructions, then got mommy and daddy to holler at the teacher for being so mean to their poor, mistreated (spoiled rotten little brat) children, when they had to start a big assignment over (even though the teacher had agreed to give them a do over rather than just fail them as they deserved),…

    they will try to get their fabulously wealthy, big money (mommy and daddy substitute) friends to run ads, hollering at Governor Dayton for refusing to give them a passing grade on their didn’t-even-bother-to-consider-what-the-assignment-actually-was, work.

    I continue to thank God that we have Governor Dayton to stand against them – to refuse to do as President Obama and the Washington Democrats have already done far too many times – to go all the way to their end of the field, then call what results “compromise.”

    I pray that Governor Dayton will continue his resolve to refuse to accept bills that are simply aimed at Republicans getting their way by seeking to solve nonexistent problems (such as the public employee pension change and removing the teachers’ right to strike), to force REAL middle-of-the-field compromise, and to accept NOTHING LESS!

  6. Submitted by will lynott on 03/14/2011 - 06:37 pm.

    Hoffman’s ideology is showing. The myth that the rich will flee if they have to pay their fair share has been debunked. See:

    Neal #2, you may not know how right you are. I remember reading a magazine article back in the 80s when Tonka Toys moved their manufacturing operations from Minnetonka to Texas. According to the slavishly supportive reporter, this was righteously done to slash labor costs. “Of course,” the article went on, “Tonka elected to keep it’s corporate headquarters in Minnesota so executives could continue to take advantage of the Minnesota quality of life.”

    These people and shame are complete strangers.

  7. Submitted by will lynott on 03/14/2011 - 06:52 pm.

    One other thing, something our governor doesn’t say often enough: When I hear republicans saying that everyone has to pitch in, I keep waiting in vain to hear them say “that includes the rich,” the sole significant economic demographic that has not been asked to sacrifice alongside the elderly, the poor, working families, and the sick.

    The attitude that only working people have to give and give some more is starting to tick a lot of people off. I was in Madison last Saturday, and I kid you not, they’re serious when they say they’re going to recall Walker and his minions in the legislature. Those who will be standing for election next year, take heed.

  8. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/14/2011 - 08:47 pm.

    The money from the Obama bail-out of big education and big public employee unions has dried up. Since the Obama “summer of recovery” has failed (along with his economic and energy policies), we do not have enough money to continue to bail-out these DFL special interest groups.

    We cannot afford to grow the state of MN at the rate “tax and spend” Dayton desires. Even if we did have the money, it will never be enough to continue satisfy these special interest groups.

    It is time to reign in these groups with real change and reform, in order to give the taxpayers of MN real hope.

  9. Submitted by craig furguson on 03/14/2011 - 09:40 pm.

    I thought the goal of business was to make profit for owners and shareholders, not to create jobs. That’s just a side effect and business owners want to pay as little as possible for wages, because it effects the bottom line.

  10. Submitted by Tim Schulze on 03/17/2011 - 02:05 pm.

    It’s hard to believe that anyone posting on this article would run their checkbooks or credit cards the way they want the state and federal governments to. How many of you have racked up 50K in rotating credit debt? What actions would you take if you had that debt. My guess is that you would take drastic action. Clip coupons, no movies, no golf, cancel subscriptions, cancel the cable TV, sell the second car, etc. The state is 5 billion in debt, the federal gov will soon be 10 trillion in debt and the GOP is doing exactly what the silent majority told them to do when they voted them in last Nov: Stop the spending!
    If the private sector ran there business like the public sector, they would all be bankrupt, ex. USPS vs. UPS. Medicare vs. Blue Cross.
    Bottom line for me personally; If I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it. If I do borrow (house, car), I don’t take the bank’s word on whether I can afford it, I do the math myself.
    I don’t know why it’s ok for gov to be fiscally irresponsible with MY money.

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