Question of the day: How can Minnesota’s legislative session end well?

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton

The governor spoke softly but resolutely this morning. Later, angry chants filled the Capitol. And all the while, Republican-led committees continued to grind through the process of putting together their all-cuts budget, which include a number of provisions that are sure to provoke even more angry chants.

All of this — the chants, the governor’s resolve, the Republicans moving ahead with their agenda — underscored the one big question that hangs over this session: How can this end well?

Start with Gov. Mark Dayton. At a morning news event, he continued to talk hopefully about finding compromise with a Legislature that is currently putting together a budget that undercuts everything Dayton has stood for:

Slashes to Local Government Aid to the big cities. An end to integration funding for schools. Huge cuts to higher education. Large cuts to the number of public employees, not to mention to their wages, benefits and rights to bargain collectively.

Despite it all, he talked about how he and Republican legislative leaders, just this morning, had met for breakfast. It was, as always, cordial.

Dayton stresses willingness to work things out
He said he again talked to them about the “bifurcation”of the voters in November.

“They elected me, and they elected you,” he said. “The overriding view of the public is that they want us to work it out. I think there is a willingness to work it out.”

Dayton, to date at least, remains so different from his predecessor.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty loved to hold up a pen that he called his “taxpayer protection plan” — his veto pen.

Pawlenty set a state record for vetoes, 299 in his eight years in office. At the end of his second term, he went so far as to give the state’s Historical Society a very large “veto” pen as a symbol of his time in office.

Dayton is making no threats, although he did say today that Republicans can’t operate from “Fantasy Island” when putting together their budget.

“Fantasy Island” thinking?

Dayton pointed to $300 million in waivers Republicans seem to think they can receive from Washington regarding Human Services budgeting.

Can’t happen, Dayton said.

He also made it clear, in soft tones, that he will oppose efforts to divert public school integration dollars to other areas.

He said the Republican legislators need to apply “fiscal notes” to their budget plans.

“They are mutually agreed-upon reality checks,” he said of the fiscal notes, which are provided by the Minnesota Management and Budget office and show the financial impact of various decisions.

There can be legitimate policy disagreements, Dayton said. But in the end, there must be a willingness on both sides to compromise.

“We have 65 days left,” he said, again expressing confidence that cool, compromising heads can prevail. 

Eliot Seide
MinnPost/Bill Kelley
Eliot Seide

Angry workers fill Capitol Rotunda
An hour after he was done speaking, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees held a massive pep rally in the Capitol Rotunda. As many as 1,500 AFSCME workers roared in response to their leader, Eliot Seide.

“Who does the work?” yelled Seide.

“We do!” the workers yelled back.

“Cut back!” yelled Seide.

“Fight back!” the workers responded.

“Who are we?” yelled Seide.

“AFSCME!” was the response.

Over and over again they chanted.

“There is a budget fix!” yelled Seide.

“Tax the rich!” the workers shouted

“This isn’t just a fight for public workers,” Seide said. “This is a fight for the middle class.”

Seide warned the workers that Republicans, who he continually referred to as “a bunch of cheap labor conservatives” are attempting to pit public workers against workers in the private sector.

“They want public and private workers fighting with each other to keep us distracted,” Seide said.

This rally, he vowed, is just the beginning.

He urged public workers to “stand up straight, shoulders back” and proudly proclaim they are public workers.

“Who does the work?”

“We do!” they shouted

Several AFSCME employees followed Seide to the speakers’ platform. There were constant references to Republican leadership in Minnesota trying “to bring Madison to St. Paul.”

Mike Lindholt, a burly snowplow driver, specifically pointed out Rep. Keith Downey, the Edina Republican who has come up with a large number of “reform” bills that would cut the state workforce by as much as 15 percent and also cut wages and benefits.

Downey, at one point, made the observation that the Legislature must “strangle the beast,” a reference to what he believes is the unsustainable size of state government.

“He says we’re beasts,” said Lindholt. “Here we are. Come see us. We are not beasts!”

The crowd roared.

Throughout the rally, the speakers praised Dayton, who was not present.

Rep. Greg Davids
Rep. Greg Davids

A perplexed Republican committee chair
Rep. Greg Davids, however, was present. He is the head of the House Taxes Committee.

Davids left the rally shaking his head.

“I don’t understand where they’re coming from,” Davids said.

What’s hard to understand?

“Tax the rich,” he said. “What’s the thought process behind destroying jobs?”

It was suggested to Davids that part of the anger seems to be efforts to cut into collective bargaining rights.

Davids is a rare Republican. He doesn’t always speak in lockstep with his caucus. He said he, too, is perplexed by the number of bills that are being processed that seem to provoke union anger.

“A waste of time,” he said of those bills. “He [the governor] is just going to veto them.”

Instead of working on such bills, Davids said Republicans should be focused entirely on bottom-line budget issues.

“That’s going to be difficult enough,” he said.

But then he went back to some of the union chants, especially “tax the rich.”

He started talking about the Bible and then the Ten Commandments. He said he recently met with union leaders and suggested to them that “tax the rich” runs roughshod over the 10th  Commandment.

“Thou shalt not covet,” he said. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, or his donkey or his job or his house in the Hamptons. That’s what it means to me.”

How does this end well?

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

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 03/22/2011 - 03:48 pm.

    Wow, that’s some over-the-top stuff from Davids. Pretty sure that’s what the lords told the peasants in the Middle Ages – they were rich because God wanted them to be.

  2. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 03/22/2011 - 04:06 pm.

    The GOP has been watching the Tutors on Showtime and yearn for the days of dukes and lords and lots of “your majesty!”

    Maybe Davids and his team should start reading the New Testament about giving unto Ceasar, giving away all your money, what you do the least-you do to me, and eye of the needle.

  3. Submitted by Lance Groth on 03/22/2011 - 05:17 pm.

    Rep. Davids can’t understand the tax-the-rich mentality?

    Perhaps it has something to do with being told for 10+ years that if we just give the rich more tax breaks, they’ll create jobs – to no effect. Been there, done that. They’ve had a decade of tax breaks. Where are the jobs?

    Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the middle class in Minnesota pays 2-3% more in taxes than the rich. See, we’re tired of paying more, percentage-wise, than the people who have all the money (and don’t create jobs with it).

    Perhaps it harks back to the 90’s, when the rich did pay more, and the economy was booming, and rich were doing very well despite slightly higher taxes. Indeed, contrary to Repub propaganda, if you take the time to plot economic performance against the party in power over time, historically the economy has performed better under Democrats. Ross Perot posted some charts detailing this kinds of analysis during the 2008 campaign, and they showed clearly that the economy performed better under Dems and/or with higher tax rates.

    Perhaps the Representative doesn’t understand the concept of “noblesse oblige”, or, to whom much is given, much is expected. The rich wouldn’t be rich without the benefits of the society they became rich in, which are funded by, yes, taxes. They like to say they did it themselves, but they wouldn’t prosper without roads, law & order, regulated commerce, military protection, fire protection, a good educational system, and all the other things government does. They benefited (big time), so what’s the rub in giving something back?

    Perhaps it’s no more complicated than that the rich can afford to pay more, and will still be rich and can still “provide jobs” (still waiting on that one), and it will benefit society in general, so why not do it? If it’s good enough for Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, why is it not good enough for Rep. Davids?

    Perhaps it’s also because those of us in the “lower classes” are tired of being the target for the class warfare being waged against us by the rich – as was so blatantly exhibited in Wisconsin (and in the language of a number of republican bills in Minnesota this year).

    That was only a short list, but does it help you to understand, Rep. Davids?

  4. Submitted by will lynott on 03/22/2011 - 06:01 pm.

    I like the way our governor is keeping his powder dry. So far, he’s the only voice of reason in the daily scorched earth antics over at the capitol. But I hope he has plenty of ink for his veto pen. He’ll need it. And, based on what I’ve been seeing and hearing, I expect that state employees will understand the need for a government shut down if the cause of it is the republicans’ failure to send him a budget he can sign.

    I also get the sense that public employees, even the republicans among them, now understand that republican legislators don’t care about them. Nor do they care what happens to their families. And never did.

    Sooner of later, they, and our governor, will tumble to the notion that these are not people you can negotiate with; that they care much more for their ideology and the rich people who pull their strings than they ever will about a single mother with two minimum wage jobs and no health insurance; and that the only thing these people understand is strength–in this case the strength to push back against the haves who want to swell the ranks of the have-nots in favor of their rich benefactors.

    Even if the epiphany is late, better that than never.

  5. Submitted by Patrick Guernsey on 03/22/2011 - 08:19 pm.

    I was in Madison about a week and a half ago. What I saw was 100,000 middle class, mostly 30s and 40 something people who were having a political epiphany. They realized that tax cuts for the rich don’t work and that Republicans are not on their side. A week ago Scott Walker was in Hudson. He didn’t look good and all he could do was repeat his stale talking points about concessions that the unions had already agreed to.
    But the best part was the looks on the workers faces. This was a non-union company, it was clear they were not impressed with this guy. I’d say the GOP has made a major miscalculation and will pay the price for it.

  6. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 03/22/2011 - 08:57 pm.

    So wanting “the rich” to pay their fair share of taxes is – in Rep. Davids’ eyes – “coveting a home in the Hamptons.

    Really?

    But “coveting a paycut” for a union worker is just swell, in his eyes??!?

    Today’s GOP: protecting their Boardroom base at the expense of everyone else. Everyone.

    Oh – and today’s GOPers – especially Bachmann – seem to have completely forgotten about the 9th Commandment….

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/22/2011 - 09:25 pm.

    Were all the protesters on break or is today a holiday?

    Has the term “lockstep” ever been used in association with Democrats?

    Lowering the tax rate on the middle class will make the taxes as a percentage of income equal. And both parties should be able to vote for that.

    Have Gates and Buffet actually sent in the money yet? Talk is cheap.

  8. Submitted by Alan Davis on 03/22/2011 - 09:25 pm.

    I too admire Mark Dayton. He refuses to play the game of idiot that Pawlenty perfected in his eight useless years in office – T-Paw left us with a dreadful deficit because he didn’t have the character to raise revenues as well as cut spending. A shameful period in Minnesota’s history has ended, however, and Dayton is now a leader – a real leader. Sadly, however, the GOP is delusional as it tries to destroy the middle class in Minnesota. Thank God for Dayton, who will lead while the GOP watches Rome burn.

  9. Submitted by Eric Larson on 03/22/2011 - 10:36 pm.

    This was a good article Doug. I’ll take a stab at your question. 1st Doug and I have a different idea of ‘end well’. My version is the Repubs pass their bills and the Gov signs them. But I’m sure the Gov will veto and maybe even go as far as a special session. I also think the Repubs would be happy to go home and say-

    ‘We balanced the budget with out raising taxes. Don’t buy that hogwash about property taxes going up, burn up the telephone lines to your local govts. If the gov thinks he should shut down the state government instead of signing the bill, it’s his long hot summer of watching his coalition go to peices’.

    The state govt critical work will continue. The DFL AFSCME employees will protest to one hand clapping news coverage. The sun will rise. Very few if any people will be harmed. People will see that the cracks of doom didn’t open up and swallow us. If the teachers pull a show-of-support walkout in May or early June—Every single levy and bond issue will go down in smoke this fall.

    If you’ve been following my comments on this delightful journal since the 2010 election I’ve been consistent. Dear State Government: Do less with less for less by less people and do it for less pay. Chiao – we will check back in mid May. Spring is here and the Twins are coming home.

    End’s well is Gov Dayton signs the bills and starts whipping up the AFSCME-MEA party for the next election. Elections have consequences you know!

  10. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/23/2011 - 07:50 am.

    This one has special session written all over it. The Republican politicians refuse to get to the serious business of the state. They are too busy working their pet projects that won’t go anywhere, won’t create any jobs, and only serve the wealthy. It is obvious with a Democrat Governor and Republican legislature at some point they will have to work together. The sooner the better. What ever happened to the sensible Republicans who have been replaced by mindless political zealots. Political zealots only serve themselves with no intention of working for anyone else. Only the moderates of both parties will solve the states problems while the zealots just waste time.

  11. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/23/2011 - 08:09 am.

    If the Republicans were confident in their “mandate” why were these proposals not made public knowledge weeks ago, instead of the last few days before the budget is supposed to be passed?

    If these proposals were popular, with widespread support, they would have announced them far and wide. If the proposals had sound basis in effect and efficiency the Republicans would have had a reasonable hearing process to explain their decision and decisively countered most criticism.

    Instead, it has been a private process for the benefit of a private few. That’s the way it works in the modern Republican party.

  12. Submitted by David Greene on 03/23/2011 - 10:45 am.

    I have been told that state agencies are going over to the legislature and doing very basic education. For example, Mn/DOT is explaining how much money it costs to build a road, fill potholes, etc. It’s something they haven’t had to do in decades.

    The numbers the Republicans are coming up with are pure fantasy. They are not based in reality at all. They’re so far off that state departments are having to take time to go over there and whack them upside the head with the clue stick.

  13. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/23/2011 - 12:00 pm.

    Realistically, this is what will happen.

    The Republicans have simply painted themselves into the corner on the no new taxes business. If they give in they will look like fools and not be re-elected. If they continue in their current position there will be a lot of pain and suffering and they will not be re-elected.

    Sad that so many people will be harmed before sanity returns in the next election.

    I point out that the Republicans have been tolerating King Banaian’s dissent without using the RINO word. Perhaps this policy should be more generally followed. This intolerance of not toeing the party line has led to the difficulty described above. To start from a rigid and totally inflexible position and refuse to budge is not in the public interest.

  14. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 03/23/2011 - 03:25 pm.

    I saw the AFSCME members on TV screaming “tax the rich,” and I wondered if they ever thought their actions might backfire. Would the voters watching the screamers think to themselves, “Gee, I really want to pay those people more, and increase their benefits and pensions?” I doubt it.

  15. Submitted by Alice Cowley on 03/23/2011 - 03:55 pm.

    I am so grateful for Gov.Dayton having the courage to be honest to those who elected him–that he would raise the taxes on the wealthiest in MN. Dayton understood the necessity and need to raise taxes at the state level rather than sending the tax increases back to the counties and local communities as Gov.Pawlenty did, many taxes became known as fees.

    I disagree with Rep.Davis talking to a union leader about the bible, Ten Commandments, and that “tax the rich” runs roughshod over the 10th commandment “thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s” reminded me of Englands deep divide of the poor and the rich,so eloquently written by Charles Dickens in his timeless classic “A Christmas Carol.”Also Dickens wrote about how Tiny Tim would have died without proper medical care.

    Too many people do not realize just how important the unions are to keep decent livable wages for the large spectrum of the working class of people. Union wages have helped the non-union workers to also get better wages to compete. Once the unions are busted, then all the working class people will suffer with poverty wages.

    Will the Ebenezer Schrooges of our day wake up to what they are doing, such as the sheeps in wolf’s clothing who call themselves “The Tea Party?” Will you remain silent and allow this to happen?

  16. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/23/2011 - 11:06 pm.

    Continually folks mention that the “Rich” don’t pay their fair share… Let’s try some math by saying that Brad, Bob & Bill are brothers.
    – Brad $20,000/yr(eff rate:10%)=$2,000
    – Bob $60,000/yr(eff rate:10%)= $6,000
    – Bill $600,000/yr(eff rate:8%)= $48,000

    Now all 3 of them use the same roads, utilities, county services, state services, etc. In fact Brad probably qualifies for and uses more additional services due to his low income.

    Now who is not paying their fair share? Your logic escapes me… Note that Bill pays 24 times what Brad does and 8 times what Bob does for the same services. An interesting spin…

  17. Submitted by John Olson on 03/26/2011 - 06:41 am.

    Mr. Appelen, the spin is yours. Bill is paying at a rate of 8 percent, while the other two in your hypothetical are paying at 10 percent. Dollar amounts paid? Sure. But the amount of tax between 10 percent and 8 percent for Bob (and certainly Brad) is money that is actually needed for the mortgage, transportation, food and so on. Bill? Not as much.

    Bill also probably has a very good lawyer and accountant managing his family’s taxes, while Brad and Bob are doing their taxes online or standing in line at Walmart.

  18. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 03/26/2011 - 06:56 am.

    It is already over!

    The rich and the radical religious right(Bishops and MCCL) have won and we are now witnessing a debate over how much they can stick it to the “beast” they have conquered.

    The only people you hear talking about compromise are the losers who could not stick together and fight for what they believe( if they truly do). When the winners talk of taking this country back they mean…back to pre-1914…stay tuned.

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