Outflanked by Dayton, GOP leaders try to regroup on budget debate

Legislators privately agree that communication has been inconsistent: too many messengers and too many themes.
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
GOP legislators privately say that communication has been inconsistent: too many messengers and too many themes.

The Republican majorities in the state House and Senate are caught between a rock and a hard place and are figuring out a plan to get free without sacrificing their budget ideals. 

The rock is Gov. Mark Dayton’s message that voters want balance, not extremes, in closing the budget gap and his effective use of the bully pulpit, now backed by $1 million media campaign from the Alliance for Better Minnesota.

The hard place is more of a hard line. Republican legislators claim, and say they have internal polls to prove it, that voters believe that the biggest budget in state history is big enough.  “I would say we are really strong inside our caucus and the feedback we are getting is not just from Republicans but the middle,” says Rep. Keith Downey, the Republican from Edina.  “They sent us here for fiscal restraint.”

This week and next, House and Senate Republican leaders are tackling two major questions: how to communicate their position as effectively as Dayton has communicated his and, once the communication is on equal footing, which items will be in play for a budget deal.

Legislators privately agree that communication has been inconsistent: a problem of too many messengers (Sens. Amy Koch and Geoff Michel, Rep. Kurt Zellers, freshman legislators, the Republican Party) and too many themes (“live within our means,” “Governor Dayton is erratic,” “Republicans have already compromised.”) GOP sources say the public can expect more discipline in the coming weeks. 

Legislators are also wondering if there will be outside support to counter the Alliance for Better Minnesota campaign. Groups like Minnesota Forward, Minnesota’s Future and the Minnesota Majority, all backed by business money and active in the 2010 election, have yet to make a big splash in the budget debate.

Charlie Weaver
Charlie Weaver

Charlie Weaver, head of the Minnesota Business Partnership, says business groups have already back a “targeted” campaign of radio and internet ads, but with the Alliance for Better Minnesota effort, “it reinforces the need for messaging.”

But Weaver was non-committal about television advertising. “The Alliance will always have more money than we do,” he said.  “With union money and personal wealth, they will outspend us two to one.”

Weaver maintains that the outcome of the budget debate will be determined by what he says is public support for the Republican position, not how much money is spent. 

Despite the Republican Party’s exhortations that “a compromise to the left is a compromise of good and evil” and that “the state party will continue to oppose any scheme to generate revenue as a means to avoid spending reductions” (which some legislators regard as unhelpful), the GOP leadership has a list of negotiating items for a budget deal.  They include expansion of gambling and a bonding bill to improve the balance sheet for the next biennium and policy points like education reforms and a Vikings stadium.

These options are the lesser of the negotiating evils for Republican legislators, who genuinely believe that they have crafted a reasonable budget solution and who are equally sincere in their opposition to a solution that increases spending through gambling or borrowing through a bonding bill. But they cannot imagine a scenario that involves an income tax increase.

Weaver sympathizes with their dilemma. “Almost every other state is reducing government, being smarter and more efficient about the way it operates,” he said.  “It’s insane for Minnesota to go in the other direction.”

Republicans give Dayton points on efficiency. Downey, a lead legislator on government redesign, cites Dayton’s support of changes in teachers’ licensure, reforms to the environmental permitting process and a recent request from the governor’s office for bids to audit and suggest improvements for a variety of government functions.

Again, though, there’s Republican frustration that even though many of the reforms stemmed from Republican legislation, Dayton, with the power of the governor’s office, has received a large share of the credit.  Headed toward another special legislative session, they are learning that the use of that power has given Dayton the negotiating edge that they are scrambling to blunt.

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/27/2011 - 05:44 am.

    “The hard place is more of a hard line. Republican legislators claim, and say they have are internal polls to prove it, that voters believe that the biggest budget in state history is big enough.”

    Well, if you put it that way…

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/27/2011 - 07:45 am.

    …Governor Dayton is erratic…

    His “raise taxes” position has not changed from the campaign and election. The strength of his position is clearly indicated by the percent of people who voted for Horner and Dayton as opposed to “there is no deficit” Emmer.

    The Republicans did not produce a budget until the last day or so of the session. Did they seriously believe that Dayton would collapse his position at the production of their initial budget and meekly sign onto their budget? Have they been asleep the last couple of decades? Do they understand the phrase “budget negotiations”?

    Perhaps that is a problem with a legislature derived largely from a group that has their fundamental psychological orientation derived from “hellfire and damnation” theology, “strong daddy”, and “independent businessperson”. Their inclination is that they know what is right, they are in charge, and “it’s my way or the highway”.

    Unfortunately they are burdened with a state where there are grey areas, there is a need to provide some “mothering”, and a set of problems that are not answerable to a profit or loss balance sheet consideration.

  3. Submitted by will lynott on 05/27/2011 - 08:21 am.

    I see. Republicans are not interested in good governance, only in their political problem. Their pigheaded insistence that their ideology must trump the public’s stated preference for a budget solution has them taking us into a summer of no state parks and no highway repairs so they can protect the only economic demographic that has not yet been asked to pitch in on the deficit. Internal polls shminternal polls. The polls that have been published (that is, not kept secret by people who don’t dare let us see them) all show the public backing Governor Dayton’s position.

    The Rs don’t seem to realize that their antics this session will result in a continuance of the structural deficit that has plagued this formerly exceptional state since the black days of Ventura/Pawlenty. That $1.4 billion “loan” from the school fund has to be paid back sometime, and there’s no real way to do that without new revenue. Surely they can see after five months of trying they are not going to be allowed to cut any deeper than they already have. Their “all cuts” budget is nothing of the kind if it depends on accounting gimmicks.

    Any wonder they’ve been eating the Governor’s dust since February?

  4. Submitted by John Olson on 05/27/2011 - 08:56 am.

    The principle the Republicans espouse of shrinking government and making it less intrusive has been contradicted by some pet social issues that are anything but not intrusive. Most voters are smart enough to see and understand the contradiction.

  5. Submitted by will lynott on 05/27/2011 - 09:16 am.

    BTW, their use of the word “erratic” to describe our Governor is disgraceful. It’s the same word they used during the campaign, hoping to capitalize on Dayton’s personal issues. Revolting then and revolting now.

    I’d have thought that his focus and consistency since he took over would have consigned that term to the dustbin of history. But, not if you’re a wingnut, I guess.

  6. Submitted by Bob Newman on 05/27/2011 - 09:23 am.

    This legislative session’s budgetary debacle is all the more reason for Minnesota to take a serious look at moving toward the unicameral system of state government. The fewer of our elected officials involved, the better. Here is the Associated Press recap of the Nebraska’s 2011 legislative session:

    Nebr. State Legislature Adjourns
    LINCOLN(AP)– Nebraska lawmakers have adjourned their legislative session for the year. The 2011 session ended Thursday with a new two-year budget, an overhaul of the state’s collective bargaining process and new congressional and legislative districts. Lawmakers also enacted a roads bill that will funnel roughly $70 million a year in state sales tax revenue into construction and maintenance, starting in 2013. In a speech to lawmakers, Gov. Dave Heineman highlighted the Legislature’s “cooperative, productive relationship” with him that helped complete the initiatives. Lawmakers finished on Day 87 of the session, ahead of their 90-day schedule.

  7. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 05/27/2011 - 10:29 am.

    The Republicans budget numbers have been debunked over and over to the point where they are now a lie.

    Last biennium the state spent $34.1 Billion. $30 or so billion from the general fund, $2.3 million from medicare stimulus fund, and $1.9 billion education shift.

    The Republicans say that 34 billion is their compromise, but they have been informed that that was a starting point. Ignorance only counts until you are informed. Once you are informed and still say it, it becomes a lie.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/27/2011 - 10:57 am.

    The fundamental flaw in the “reasoning” of our Republican friends is based on the fact that the worldview their dysfunctions require them to wrap so tightly around themselves makes it impossible for them to allow to enter their consciousness any countervailing facts and experiences.

    They simply CAN’T comprehend the surveys that show that the public, after hearing them communicate very clearly their perspectives and their approaches, simply isn’t buying any of it.

    Lacking the ability to see and hear anything or anyone with whom they disagree and, especially, lacking the ability to trust anyone who does not agree with them completely on every issue,…

    They simply can’t comprehend that, despite the fact that everyone they know and care about is in perfect agreement with them, the majority of the citizens of the state DISagree with them.

    Consequently they believe that the problem is that they’ve been “outflanked,” they “haven’t gotten their message out,” etc.

    I, for one, welcome their effort to communicate what they believe more clearly to the citizens of the state, because the MORE we know about them and the ways they think and want the government to act, the LESS we will like them and the LESS likely we will be to ever again put them in charge.

    I hope they shout their ideas and ideals from the rooftops of every city, town and township in the state, because, as they do so, the people of Minnesota will begin to ask each other, more and more, “What’s wrong with these people?” “What terrible things have been done to them to cause them to believe it’s right to think and act in the ways they SO want to do?”

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2011 - 11:02 am.

    It’s their ideology not their message that’s bankrupt, and people are beginning to notice.

  10. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/27/2011 - 11:06 am.

    The Republicans say they have polling showing support for their position. You can’t run a poll among yourselves and call it a reflective validation of the public positions. If not evident to you now, it will become evident that you are way off base as more elections, like the upset election in New York State’s heavily Republican district, where a Democrat won because of the off base Republican position. It will be painfully clear as the Republican party disappears from office. You can’t be against something strictly because the other side is for it. Your decisions have to be based on solid rational.

  11. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 05/27/2011 - 11:30 am.

    I am glad to hear that the various business groups are giving pause to how they react. I am not foolish enough to hope that they will change their core position. However, I do hope they will pause to reconsider if they are overreaching politically. The longer this drags out the more damage it does to the Republican and business position and therefore their interests. We are not yet to the point that people are connecting property tax increases with income tax decreases but when that connection becomes widely known watch out. Look at the connection the public is making now on the 2%-this has not even peaked but it inevitably will. This was invisible two and four years ago. The wisest business folks know that there has to be a balance in society for business to succeed. Henry Ford knew this 100 years ago-paying his people enough so they could buy his product. This is of course not just a Minnesota problem and not many people appreciate the dilemnas business people often face (I know I am one).Still I hope the Chamber and/or Charlie’s group and others will now urge compromise so we can all get ‘back to business.’ Remember 150 years ago the business community overreached for 50 years (the gilded age), the populace snapped in 1913 and in record time ratified the income tax constitutional amendment. Business is running out of their 50 years that started in 1980. Don’t overreach. You do not want to find out what permanent limits the American people will put on you next. The fact that so many support Governor Dayton’s position is the canary in the coal mine for you-a warning of danger ahead.

  12. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/27/2011 - 11:56 am.

    My local school district just laid of 27 teachers, one with 30 years experience. In the last three years they’ve cut $4 million. Enrollment has been steady.

    What are Republicans going to say to that? Fewer teachers is good for schools? Layoffs create jobs? Smaller government is so much better for you that the disaster it creates for the people who depend on it will be insignificant in comparison?

    Their entire topice is fantasyland. All made up. Just nonsense they believe. We might as well believe that the cobbler’s naked elves will show up in the middle of the night and build roads and teach children.

  13. Submitted by Doug Roese on 05/27/2011 - 12:04 pm.

    These games just drive me nuts. We’re paying these folks to work together. If we elected two parties this time, we expect compromise. R’s refusing to raise any taxes isn’t compromise. Dayton should state publicly that he will veto any special session bills that don’t include raising rates on the wealthiest MNs (who pay a lower overall % of their income than the rest of us) AND he should expose how much it costs us each week to pay for a Legislative branch that wastes time on bills that have been pre-vetoed.

    Also, I don’t see why we can do something this way: Rather than having lower tax rates on ALL the higher earners because maybe, just maybe, SOME of them will create some (well-paying?) jobs here in MN, why don’t we give LARGE tax credits to those that actually do? Saying that we can’t tax our “job creators” without getting actual jobs out of them is ludicrous. Those who actually create jobs can then have a much higher tax break than if we spread it out to all the wealthy on some honor system.

  14. Submitted by Dave Kopesky on 05/27/2011 - 01:34 pm.

    I echo the comments about how tacky the “erratic” comments by the GOP leaders are. I hope the public tires of their transfer of tax obligations from progressive taxation to regressive – like the huge growth of property taxes while income taxes on the wealthy go down and service cuts continue. The only ones willing to compromise throughout this debate were the DFLers, the right wing of the Republican party says take our proposals 100% or leave it, maybe in 2012 the voters will say “leave it”.

  15. Submitted by craig furguson on 05/27/2011 - 02:21 pm.

    The GOP continues to paint itself into a corner with the “no new revenue” pledge.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2011 - 02:32 pm.

    Business group support for Republicans has always baffled me. Why are recessions good for business?

  17. Submitted by jody rooney on 05/27/2011 - 04:59 pm.

    Polls aren’t data.

    Paul Anton’s article in the Star Tribune was a very reasonable approach to the budget issue. Do what you need to to remain solvent in the next two years to determine what is effective and what isn’t.

  18. Submitted by Wm. Sweeney on 05/28/2011 - 12:45 pm.

    Righteousness may be admirable (to an extent) in religion — in politics, not so much. The black/white thinking of those on the far right and left has hamstrung our politics. However, by committing the negotiating sin of openly compromising with himself, Dayton has evidenced flexibility and put the GOP legislative majority in a defensive stance — as they are viewed as creating the budgetary logjam.

  19. Submitted by John Ferman on 05/28/2011 - 08:39 pm.

    The Republican non-budget is just a part of their larger picture for Minnesota. It is not a place many would find friendly – the Minnesota Nice becomes the Republican Minnesota Sneer.

  20. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 05/29/2011 - 05:42 am.

    I remember that Tim Pawlenty “saved” each Minnesotan a nickel every two years by having Carol Molnau double-hatted as transportation commissioner and lieutenant governor and paying her only the lower salary. After four years of this “management efficiency” and I had an “extra dime” in my pocket, the I-35W bridge fell down, and 13 Minnesota families had casualties. The $40Million fund that was created to compensate the injured survivors and the families of the casualties required about $10 revenue from me and each other Minnesota taxpayer.

    So I realize that the Republican Majority “saving” us from “overspending” and “overreaching” by starving departments of government until they have to lay off employees and reduce services might save us a nickel now but cost us ten bucks in another year or two. And if I were a kindergartener, I might go for the instant gratification of having a nickel now, even though there is not much I can do with a nickel.

    But I’m an adult, and I’d rather put my nickel in the drum of State Revenue, and work together with other Minnesotans. Because I know when we put our nickels together, we can make something of them, and do things that are good for us and the generation(s) that follow.

  21. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/30/2011 - 06:01 am.

    “Business group support for Republicans has always baffled me. Why are recessions good for business?”

    There are a number of reasons for this, and in fact lots of businesses support Democrats or are at least friendly to them.

    One example I would point to is Target and their support of Tom Emmer. In my opinion, what Target was doing was putting the interests of it’s managers ahead of it’s and employees and ahead of the interests of it’s business. Quite simply, Emmer’s low tax policies for upper income earners benefited Target high level managers personally. But these policies were at the expense of Target customers whose taxes would be higher and would hurt more by cuts in state government those tax policies require.

    At Target, prosperity trickles up from the customer to management, something managers seem to work very hard sometimes to forget.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/30/2011 - 09:41 am.


    Sounds like class warfare to me. Well, class conflict at any rate.

  23. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/30/2011 - 10:46 am.

    “Sounds like class warfare to me. Well, class conflict at any rate.”

    What surprised me was Target’s decision to go to war against the interests of their customers. And consequently, their shareholders.

  24. Submitted by Rod Loper on 05/30/2011 - 01:34 pm.

    I would like to see somebody host an honest seminar on Ayn Rand and how her ideas inform
    the rhetoric of our legislators. Dayton is correct. They are extreme.

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