Only two questions remain unanswered in this portion of this legislative session:
• What bill will Gov. Mark Dayton veto first?
• When will the special session begin?
Dayton probably won’t match the veto total racked up last year by Tim Pawlenty, who red-inked 79 full and line-item vetoes. But from abortion to guns to Local Government Aid, from higher education to early childhood education, from transportation to the biggie, Human Services, Dayton has a vast array of bills he can pick from to start the veto process.
As for the special session, DFL legislators all are assuming they’ll be back for more following the regular session’s May 23 deadline.
DFLers expect revenue boosts
“At some point, Republicans will understand that there will be new revenue,” said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka.
She predicts that ultimately there’ll be some mini-version of a fourth-income tax tier and an expansion of the sales tax.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, believes the Republican rookie class, which holds so much sway in the majority House and Senate caucuses, may even have to go through a shutdown before they start feeling pressure from the public.
“When they start wearing Depends, they’ll come around,” Rukavina predicted.
To date, it should be noted that Republicans, especially the rookies, seem extremely confident they’re in control and that Dayton will collapse.
None of this is new. Since January, Dayton has been stressing compromise and the need to meet “at the 50-yard-line.” And the Republicans have been digging their entrenched position deeper and deeper. (Dayton’s bargaining position was strengthened Sunday with the results of the Star Tribune’s Minnesota Poll showing that 63 percent of Minnesotans favor the governor’s proposed solution to the budget deficit — a combo package of cuts and tax increases — while 27 percent agreed with the Republican legislative majority’s all-cuts plan.)
Given the tedious nature of the budget debate, it was almost refreshing over the weekend to see that our heroes in the Legislature don’t always bicker along party lines. Sometimes, they bicker in bipartisan ways.
On Saturday, for example, House members divided along metro-Greater Minnesota lines and bickered with great gusto.
This time, the fight was over how to spend parks and trails money from the Legacy Amendment that was passed by voters in 2008, just so that conservation and arts money wouldn’t get tied up in the political process.
But someone, or something, has to divide up that huge pool of money the amendment has created. And that something is the Legislature.
When Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, offered an amendment to redirect a few million dollars more to parks and trails from Greater Minnesota to metro parks, she set off some wailing and gnashing of teeth.
“Poor us,” said rural legislators of both parties.
“We have most of the people and pay the bulk of the taxes in Minnesota,” countered metro legislators. “Maybe we oughta get some of the benefits.”
Back and forth they went.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, the GOP chairman of the legacy committee who hails from Grove City, tried to convince his fellow legislators that he played it down the middle, though at one point he did sort of show his rural roots.
“I have one picture on my wall,” said Urdahl. “William Jennings Bryan, who was a Democrat. And under that picture I have one of his quotes that, I’ll try to summarize here. ‘If our cities disappeared, our farms would continue, but if farms disappear, our cities would crumble.”
This didn’t seem to please metro area legislators who argued for “a fair share” of parks and trails money.
Metro area vs. Greater Minnesota
Metro legislators argued that 68 percent of the state’s income taxes and 72 percent of the state’s corporate taxes come from the metro, yet 78 percent of the legacy money heads to Greater Minnesota.
Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, found this argument distasteful.
“An average family of four in Greater Minnesota makes 55 percent of what a family of four in the metro area makes,” he said.
Coming from a Republican, this argument — that money should flow from the more wealthy to the less-well-off — amused some DFLers.
“That sounds like socialism,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, turning around a frequent GOP criticism of many DFL proposals as socialism.
On occasion, some tried to lighten the hard feelings between the Minnesotans.
“If you’re Greater Minnesota,” said Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, “does that mean the other is ‘Lesser Minnesota?’ ”
After a long debate, such Republican representatives as John Kriesel of Cottage Grove and Pat Garofalo of Farmington voted with Scalze and other metro DFLers. On the other hand, such Iron Range DFLers s Rukavina and Carly Melin voted with such Republicans as Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa. The Scalze amendment was defeated.
What was most amusing about all of this is that a debate that crossed party lines confused the heck out of some of our political leaders.
For example, two Republicans — Kirk Stensrud of Eden Prairie and Tim O’Driscoll of Sartell — kept looking around feverishly during debates over Legacy funding. They’d hold their thumbs up, then down and shrug their shoulders as they looked for help on how they should vote.
But of course, most of the debating between now and May 23 will be for show.
What lie ahead are vetoes and posturing — and almost certainly a special session.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.