GOP, DFL budget arguments are stuck on ‘Repeat’ at Commission meeting

Pols apparently believe that if you say the same things often enough, you’ll sway the doubters to your side.

And so it was at the second meeting of the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy. At Tuesday’s session, Republicans again said that raising taxes on the highest earners would be a “job killer,” and DFLers again countered that a combination of raising taxes and making cuts is the best way to balance the budget.

No, it isn’t!

Yes, it is!!

Minnesota’s budget in the last biennium was $34 billion.

No, it wasn’t!

Yes, it was!!

Back and forth it went.

We’re closing in on July 1, the shutdown date, but it still sounds like January at the Capitol.

Perhaps, if both sides repeat their positions a few more times, everything will get resolved.

Ortman grills Revenue Commissioner Frans
Oh, there was some progress Tuesday afternoon for the second gathering of this august body. This time, two of Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioners, Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter and Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, did attend. (Last week, they were ordered by Dayton not to attend the first dog-and-pony show.)

For a while, Frans must have wondered why he did come. A rookie at this commissioner business, he found himself the target of Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, who appeared to be having a very bad day.

Sen. Julianne Ortman
Sen. Julianne Ortman

Without so much as a “How you doin’, Commissioner?” Ortman tore into Frans.

“Are you here on a partisan basis?” Ortman said contemptuously.

“I accepted the job on behalf of all Minnesotans and for Gov. Dayton,” Frans replied tentatively. He stumbled on, saying he wants to “represent the department in a ways that’s honest and fair.”

Ortman was unimpressed. She continued to bash poor Frans, who didn’t help himself by stumbling about when he could have gotten off the hook simply by noting that he serves at the pleasure of the governor.

He didn’t. So Ortman slapped him around, just for the sheer joy of it.

“If you’re not partisan, why weren’t you here last Thursday? … I’m very concerned you weren’t here. … If you were nonpartisan, you would have been here.”

Commissioner Myron Frans
Commissioner Myron Frans

Eventually, Sen. Majority Leader Amy Koch got tired of watching Frans sweat and somehow managed to get attention directed elsewhere.

But aside from one little glimmer of hope, there was nothing that looked like progress in this session.

That glimmer came when Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, who was pounding on Frans for not having more statistics about the impact of a fourth tax tier on the wealthiest. Would they leave the state? Find tax shelters?

Republicans frequently asked that question Tuesday.

Frans kept trying to answer the question of what those in the fourth tier might do in case of a tax increase.

“There haven’t been thorough studies done on that,” he said at one point. “We don’t have data on that,” he said at another.

He did say that it appears that high taxes are only one part of “a complex” set of reasons wealthy people choose to live in one region over another.

But back to that glimmer.

Lanning said something that hinted that if the Department of Revenue had better data, maybe Republicans could find a way to “free up” more revenue.

Hints of “new revenue”?
Think about that: Republicans thinking about freeing up more revenue. Is that being whispered in the back rooms?

Although Lanning wasn’t clear, Frans jumped all over the chance to make some revenue points.

“He [Dayton] is clearly looking for ways to get this $1.8 billion in revenue,” Frans said. “If you want to come up with ideas [other than a fourth tier], I’ll write them down and make sure he sees them.”

So would some new revenue, any new revenue, break the logjam? Racinos, a downtown Minneapolis casino, a new liquor-by-the-drink fee? Is there an answer?

Officially, no.

In fact, after the little Lanning-Frans exchange, it was back to business as usual.

Republicans beat up on Dayton for not being specific in in his May 16 compromise proposal about what cuts he’d make when he called for $1.8 billion in new revenue and $1.8 billion in cuts.

Schowalter kept trying to say that Dayton was offering “a framework” for a settlement.

“I can’t give you details on proposals that don’t exist,” Schowalter said.

But the Republicans wanted details. They wanted the people of Minnesota and the governor and the DFLers in the Legislature to understand the righteousness of their positions.

So they repeated them over and over and over again.

Sen. Geoff Michel, assistant majority leader, tried again. The governor’s plan, a tax increase, “is bad for business,” he said.

A DFLer suggested that a more progressive tax system actually might be fair.

“I don’t think that 201 legislators and one governor sitting in St. Paul can define fair,” said Michel.

And the clock kept ticking toward July 1.

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

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Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/08/2011 - 09:43 am.

    “Are you here on a partisan basis?” Ortman said contemptuously.

    “I accepted the job on behalf of all Minnesotans and for Gov. Dayton,”

    The better partisan answer would have been a simple “No”.

    Something that really amuses me is how easy it is to make nonpartisan and nonpolitical people seem partisan and political. And how good really partisan and political people are at presenting themselves as nonpartisan and apolitical.

  2. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/08/2011 - 10:03 am.

    I have a recommendation for MinnPost. Link public figures’ names to their contact page. For example, I would like to ask Sen. Ortman what exactly her questions had to do with getting anything done. It’s not like she’s not partisan. Additionally, I would like to drop Rep. Lanning a note saying that I’m glad he’s thinking outside the box–way to try to move forward. It would be great, as I was reading the article, to click on her name and be brought to her contact page on the MN legislature page.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/08/2011 - 10:15 am.

    Here are links to the email addresses and other contact information:

    The legislative website in general is a great resource.

  4. Submitted by Don Effenberger on 06/08/2011 - 10:20 am.

    Interesting idea, Rachel.

    To make it easy for readers to find that information, we have put together three special pages — one on the governor, one on the House and one on the Senate. They’re featured all the time in the righthand column of our Home Page down a ways under Topic Pages.

    Here are the direct links to the pages:

  5. Submitted by Josh McCabe on 06/08/2011 - 11:15 am.

    Don that’s a great response to Rachel’s idea, but I think she may be right that the links right there in the story would make the most sense. Part of the joy of online news is the ease and immediacy of it’s connectivity, and it would definitely empower public participation of all kinds. Personally, I think that can only be a positive, although I’m sure some elected officials may deeply deeply regret it if it takes off.

    I do realize it would change the nature of our content to attempt to embed links in a story, and respect the need to apply your expertise to that issue. Maybe it’s not so simple as it sounds to us. But I think it’s a superb idea.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/08/2011 - 11:40 am.

    All my adult life Republican/conservatives have been obsessed with detecting and declaring bias, as if it’s detection in-and-of itself is significant. The funny thing is they always use the accusation of bias either in a spurious attempt to feign objectivity themselves (i.e. “fair and balanced”) or to justify their own bias as a necessary counter balance. Of course all of this only serves to prevent any meaningful discussion, and simply devolves into high school debate style arguments. As amply evidenced here, it any resolution will be impossible given the nature of these hearings.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/08/2011 - 11:45 am.

    Not to demean the commissioners, but this is kind of like arguing with the waiter about the prices on the menu. The waiter has no authority to negotiate prices. You can talk about the food, the choices, the seasonings, the quantity, etc., but in the end, the server is not going to change the prices.

    All it proves is that the questioner is an ass.

  8. Submitted by will lynott on 06/08/2011 - 11:48 am.

    Dayton was right the first time; the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy is nothing but a kangaroo court in which the Rs can beat up on bureaucrats who don’t get to fight back. He directed them not to attend last week; why did they attend this time?

    That said, when are the Ds going to call the Rs on their “job killing” crapola? There is not a shred of evidence to support it, and plenty of evidence that it’s crap. Just one example:

    Go ahead, call Limmer’s bluff.

  9. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/08/2011 - 12:18 pm.

    Thank you, Hiram and Don, for the links. I do use them and contact my representatives that way. Unfortunately, I go to those links after reading an article and only when I “get around to it,” leading me to not contact those individuals as often as I really believe I should, and requiring me to go back to the original article later to get the information that I don’t always remember. More and more frequently, other news sites are linking within their articles, often to ads, other news stories, and whatnot. I’d rather have an article link to a direct way to ask questions and comment upon our politicians to their face than those other things. Also, I’d rather have the article in front of me with the exact information it provides rather than the general impression I remember hours later when I “get around to” contacting the public figure in question.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/08/2011 - 12:40 pm.

    Politicians use newspapers fear of bias very skilfully to their advantage. And that’s one huge reason why the mainstream media has become so marginalized.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/08/2011 - 01:08 pm.

    Rachel, you raise an interesting point. More and more what we read on the web is a part of context. We expect links, and more and more we are surprised when they aren’t there. When I read the New York Times for example, I often get the feeling that it is underlinked.

    What is happening over time is a changing of the generations. The folks who grew up in the print world, the evening news at 5:30 world still think of what they produce as being sufficient in itself, stand alone journalism. As those folks are replaced by the internet generation, that view of that sees the news as part of a vastly larger context provided by the internet, as an ongoing 24 hour a day discussion which is never final, never complete.

  12. Submitted by Ben Ashley-Wurtmann on 06/08/2011 - 01:41 pm.

    What I wouldn’t have given to seen Frans ask back…”Aren’t you?”

    And if Geoff Michel doesn’t think the legislative process can determine “fair” then I strongly suggest he rethink his day job. The people of this state sent those 202 souls to St. Paul to do their level best to create fair and just law.

  13. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 06/08/2011 - 01:49 pm.

    @Hiram Foster

    “Politicians use newspapers fear of bias very skilfully to their advantage. And that’s one huge reason why the mainstream media has become so marginalized.”

    Oh it’s horrible.

    You should have seen last night’s NBC Nightly News puff piece on the Paul Revere / Sarah Palin story.

    NBC went out of their way to talk about the edit fight that erupted on Wikipedia, but danced around the issue of whether Palin was totally wrong. It was a sight to behold.

    Fairness at the expense of accuracy. That’s their motto.

  14. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/08/2011 - 02:24 pm.

    Well clearly Sen. Michel doesn’t know what he was elected to do.

    No rules or statutes are inherently “fair” because the circumstances surrounding individual circumstances vary. That has to be one of the dumber more naive things I have ever heard come out of any politicians mouth.

  15. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 06/08/2011 - 02:54 pm.

    To Will #8 and Ben #12, I couldn’t agree more. Is it some sort of state secret that they were appointed by a Dem Governor to advance a Dem agenda?

    It reminds me of the great line Jon Stewart said re: the Weiner Scandal (although I’ll have to sanitize it)….the most shocking thing about the photo wasn’t that it was taken and sent, but that there’s actually a Democrat who has testicles.

  16. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 06/08/2011 - 04:07 pm.

    The Republicans can visit the web site of Citizens for Tax Justice ( for any number of research reports on such as:

    State by state reports on how the Bush tax cuts have harmed the various states

    Tim Pawlenty’s tax “plan” would cut taxes for America’s richest 400 by 75% and for millionaires in general by at least 41%

    In defiance of Grover Norquist and The Pledge, Nevada’s Republican governor worked with both parties to pass a budget deal that included extending $620 in temporary tax increases

    Or would these reports just make their blood pressure rise?

  17. Submitted by Mark Davis on 06/08/2011 - 04:38 pm.

    I believe it is time for the citizenry to rise up and recall those do nothing Republicans! I believe their behavior rises to level of non-feasance, we just need some disgruntled voters in some swing districts. If it can be done in Wisconsin, it can be done here!

  18. Submitted by Stan Hooper on 06/08/2011 - 11:15 pm.

    When my late father was trying to enter some kind of nonsense into his computer program (oops-they’re “apps” now), instead of suggesting the input didn’t compute, the computer printed,”Sez who?” Seems to me the media people ought to be asking questions just like that every time any politician pontificates, makes a proclamation or postures: say to them, “Prove it.” “Show me your source.” “Substantiate that position with facts or research.” “Where in history can you compare what you are saying about today’s circumstances?” “When/how has it been proven that your statement holds water?” And so on. In other words, stop with just letting them say what they say; make them back up their statements: whether they give an explanation or stammer about not knowing, or speak a lot of nonsense, however they answer the question, it clearly gives the public a chance to analyze the answer and draw conclusions about the validity of their statements or the accuracy of their polemics. But don’t accept more pontification and rhetoric: repeat your questions when you get pontification, rhetoric or that other response, “Well, it just stands to reason, doesn’t it?” Horse sense is for horses: voters and taxpayers need more than that: they need true transparency to the level of honesty, as naive as that sounds.

  19. Submitted by John Olson on 06/09/2011 - 06:53 am.

    Is anyone else noticing that–for the most part–we only see the Young Turks of the Republican caucuses in front of the microphones day in and day out? It makes sense that Sen. Michel is doing the bulk of the talking since he probably has a larger number of folks who fall into that top two percent. Sen. Koch? Not as much.

    Save for a glimpse of a more senior member here or there, most of the long-time Republican legislators appear to be staying away from the cameras and the microphones.

  20. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/09/2011 - 07:46 am.

    The Republicans seem to be going with Sen. Michel a lot, and I think there are good reasons for that. He is a smart, articulate guy who has the ability to take the edge off the GOP message. I did think he wandered a bit too far into the weeds on Almanac the other with his talk of “framing” the message, but I think he has a difficult message to send, one in need of very careful framing.

    Republicans have a difficulty in making their message tangible, real. What are they going to do? Bring on a businessman who is going to tell us about how hard it is to make in America on only 300,000 bucks a year? How he is thinking about laying off his gardener, and cutting back on lunches at D’Amico’s? About how he is thinking about moving to Texas in order to save a couple of hundred bucks in taxes? Republicans have quite rightly concluded that it’s best that such people communicate to us by means of anecdote, rather than actually being physically present on the Almanac couch or through testimony before a legislative committee.

  21. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/09/2011 - 10:46 am.

    Perhaps we should just limit the number of attorneys in the legislature and replace them with people who aren’t trained to be adversarial.

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