As if Republicans and DFLers didn’t have enough to fight about, new charges and counter-charges have emerged this week at the Capitol.
The new disagreement revolves around “phony money.”
“Pixie dust” is how Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, describes the funds that Republicans are claiming in arriving at their no-new-taxes budget.
Republicans, not surprisingly, are denying they’re just making stuff up.
But, in something of a stunner, Republican legislative leadership said this morning that when they’re putting together their budget bills, they’re not necessarily relying on financial analyses from the Minnesota Management and Budget office, which traditionally has been seen as a nonpartisan body.
Instead of relying on Management and Budget numbers, House Speaker Kurt Zellers said today that in some cases Republicans are turning to private financial consultants for advice.
GOP questions ‘fiscal notes’
Understand, number-crunchers from Management and Budget and the Department of Revenue traditionally have told governors and legislators how much it would cost to implement policies that they propose. The numbers supplied by these two bodies are known as “fiscal notes.”
Zellers offered an example of why Republicans are not necessarily trusting those numbers.
He said that Rep. Keith Downey, the Republican point man on reform, offered a plan to consolidate some “back office” work currently done by government.
Zellers said that the Management and Budget fiscal note claimed that the Downey consolidation plan would cost $10 million in each of the next three years and require the hiring of 92 employees.
“That’s counter-intuitive,” Zellers said, adding that he wasn’t surprised that people who might be affected by reform might not be enthusiastic about supporting it with positive fiscal notes.
Therefore, Zellers said, instead of believing Management and Budget, Republican legislators have turned to consultants who have made similar reforms in the private sector or in other states for their estimates on the costs of the overhaul.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen expressed surprise at the Republican approach.
“We’ve always trusted Management and Budget,” Thissen said. “Why would you trust private consultants more?”
Thissen and Dibble both say that this is just another example of how Republicans are struggling to come up with ways to overcome the state’s $5 billion deficit and balance the budget with no new revenue.
DFL expects $1 billion in ‘phony money’ from GOP
They said they believe there’s as much as $1 billion in “phony money” in the Republican budget bills that will start appearing on the floor for debate beginning Monday.
One of the big piles of make-believe cash, they say, is a $300 million “waiver” from the federal government that Republicans are using to attempt to put together a Human Services bill. They say there’s no way that the Republicans can assume the $300 million in savings will be available.
Republican leaders counter that view, saying that in conversations they had with Gov. Mark Dayton three weeks ago, he showed interest in helping them seek money-saving waivers.
As for “phony money,” they say, nothing is so phony as the budget proposed by Dayton, which includes tax increases on Minnesota’s wealthiest.
“The governor’s budget is predicated on $2.67 billion [in tax increases] for which there is no support,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.
At their weekly media session, the Republican leaders also defended their fast-paced budget process, which Dayton lambasted Thursday at a speech.
Besides calling some of the Republican-proposed cuts “draconian and barbaric,” Dayton said that the Republican process was being disrespectful to his commissioners, who weren’t being given adequate time to testify. He also said that the public was being cut out of the process.
Republican leaders were armed with stats about the time turned over to testimony from commissioners and the public. They said in the last week alone, Republican-led finance committees heard more than 60 hours of testimony. They said that since the beginning of the session, legislators have held more than 300 hearings.
Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he thinks he understands the governor’s anger.
“When you’re not pleased with substance or policy you argue about the process,” Michel said. “We’ll keep connecting with the governor.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.