The Republican Senate leaders were giddy and proud today. They brought charts showing that their majority caucus had passed 10 major budget bills that they say will allow the state to “live within its means” of a $34 billion biennial budget.
“We did what we said we were going to do,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. “We passed a balanced budget … we are balancing the budget within existing resources and we’re not raising taxes.”
They carried some fightin’ words, too, into a celebratory news conference this morning where Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel did the kickboxing.
“Senate Republicans have been hard at work,” he said. “The Senate DFL has been missing in action. They have chosen to sit on the sidelines in this budget debate. … I think that’s worth calling out. … We’re trying to clean up their mess,” he said, although some might note that the “mess” developed while a certain presidential candidate was governor for eight years.
Their budget plan, Koch and Michel said, was completed ahead of schedule and just awaits some fine-tuning in conference committees with the Republican-controlled House.
Oh, they need that guy, Gov. Mark Dayton, at the table, too, they noted.
A football metaphor
A rookie member of the GOP Senate Caucus provided another colorful analogy.
Claiming that the DFL has not participated in forming a budget, Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said: “I feel like a guy who went to the locker room, suited up for a football game, showed up at the 50-yard line, ready to go, and the other team didn’t show.”
Well, within minutes, DFL Majority Leader Tom Bakk did show — looking like an offensive lineman — and ready for action. Sen. Thompson, don’t mess with this guy.
Bakk was seething as he took over the lectern in Room 125 of the Capitol. He tossed out words such as “dishonest” and “phony” — and those were the compliments — when talking about the Republicans’ assertion that their budget was balanced and that taxes weren’t going to go up.
He produced a spreadsheet that projected a $300 million increase in property taxes under the new GOP budget. His figures came from the nonpartisan Senate research staff.
Bakk pointed to $308 million in shifts in the budget that transfer money from dedicated funds for use in the general fund. He and Sen. Linda Berglin noted, for example, that the GOP budget includes assumptions on a federal Medicaid waiver worth $603 million that they believe won’t be granted.
Said Bakk: “You can’t just make up numbers and then say you have a balanced budget.”
Berglin, the longtime human services conscience of the Senate, didn’t mince her words either.
“In the case of the human services bill, they’re going to need a lot more cuts than they have in the bill, but they’re not going to have any revenue,” she said. “How in the world they’re going to get 900- to a billion dollars’ worth of more cuts in that bill … I have no idea.”
Meanwhile, the GOP Senate leadership said it has been using outside consultants from such firms as IBM, Accenture and Deloitte & Touche to advise it on budget issues. To that, Sen. Berglin rolled her eyes.
Trouble in ‘paradise’
Call it just another rotten day in political paradise, where world views and statistics and moods tend to be diametrically opposed to one another. Call it same old, same old, with six weeks to go until the May 23 deadline for the Legislature to adjourn.
There’s no failure to communicate — everyone’s real good at that. But there is a failure to be anywhere in the same budgetary ZIP code, even, as Michel said, “The clock is ticking.”
Conference committees begin meeting next week on all the key budget bills. Bakk said the GOP legislative leaders and Dayton need to establish a “global” number and work off of that as they allocate dollars to different programs. That’s how budgets get done, said the veteran senator and tax expert.
But Koch and Michel reiterated that new taxes — or at least what they call new taxes — were off the table.
In the end, everyone knows there’s a showdown a-comin’. Even Michel, today’s John Wayne, said, “We’re excited to have our budget done … but we recognize it’s not done.”