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.