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GOP’s ‘Not a penny more’ legislators are another factor in finding budget deal

Members of the "Not a penny more" group have argued that $34 billion should be plenty of state spending for the next two years.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Members of the “Not a penny more” group have argued that $34 billion should be plenty of state spending for the next two years.

The GOP swept into control of the Legislature in 2010, carried by a wave of new fiscal hardliners determined to beat back spending in St. Paul.

Their session-long chant: “No New Taxes!” — with “No New Revenues!” peppered in less frequently.

But budget offers between Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP legislative leaders that were revealed after Minnesota’s government shut down show that Republican lawmakers did offer some forms of new revenue.

That’s despite the opposition of a loosely affiliated Republican group of about 30 House members and a handful of senators, many of them freshmen or short-termers.

They’re members of the “Not a penny more” group that this legislative session has argued that $34 billion — the number Minnesota is projected to take in — should be plenty of state spending for the next two years.

Penny pins and posters
They’ve hung posters on their office doors depicting a canvas sack stuffed with money that says, “$34 billion.” The poster reads, “Not a penny more,” as a hand reaches toward the sack with one final cent. It’s those pennies that the members wear as pins on their lapels.

The GOP leadership has had trouble convincing the group to accept even a $34 billion budget, the better-than-expected February budget forecast for the biennium. Dayton is seeking a budget that’s at least $1 billion higher than that level.

“It’s a strong commitment among members who are saying we have already moved from just over $32 billion in the current biennium to a proposal that spends everything we have, and that’s the compromise position,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, a third-term member who started the coalition, told Politics in Minnesota in May. “We were sent here to stop the growth and excesses of government. And to spend everything you have coming in, that’s enough. It’s a theme that very accurately weaves our caucus together.”

Rep. Steve Drazkowski
Rep. Steve Drazkowski

But in the hours preceding the state government shutdown, before budget negotiations had dissolved, the GOP floated an offer. Republican leaders proposed to further shift funding from K-12 education by 10 percent and issue bonds for tobacco settlement money that Minnesota receives each year.

In exchange, they wanted a host of policy provisions included in their vetoed omnibus budget bills and temporary “lights-on” funding for state services to prevent a shutdown. That proposal put human cloning provisions, defunding state aid for abortions, and voter ID back on the table.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, a key proponent of voter ID, would have gotten her legislation as part of a package of Republican policy.

Obviously, the deal didn’t happen. Dayton rejected a last-minute tobacco plan, and the GOP wouldn’t consider the governor’s pared-down income tax proposal for individuals earning more than $1 million annually.

“You can’t throw a dart in the House” without finding a member of the group, freshman Rep. Mike Benson said.

What constitutes new revenue?
So where were the firebrands from the “not a penny more” coalition during these proposals? And, perhaps more importantly, does issuing bonds backed by future tobacco payments count as new revenue so spending can be increased?

Rep. Mike Benson
Rep. Mike Benson

To Benson, a “not a penny more” member from Rochester, it doesn’t.

“I don’t see this as an increase in taxes for revenue,” he said. “This is an acceleration of a payment that’s always guaranteed.”

Benson, who would have voted for the proposal, called bonding tobacco money a “shorthand, long-term gain for the state.” Along with negotiations to spend the money ahead of schedule, lawmakers debated ending the medical provider tax, Benson said, which would have been great for his community.

The goal was to “come to an agreement in a crisis budget situation without raising taxes,” said Rep. Doug Wardlow, a newcomer from Eagan.

Wardlow said the tobacco proposal, previously floated by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and derided by former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, draws on a continuous source of state revenue. “We just moved it up. That’s all.”

Kiffmeyer, a second-term member of the penny pinchers, took a more political approach to explaining the situation. She backed off any support of frontloading the tobacco settlement money, and instead said offering the proposal to Dayton was a “tactic” to see where the governor was “dug in at.”

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer
MinnPost/Jay Weiner
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer

“Is it just [that] Gov. Dayton wants new revenue to increase spending?” she asked.

By all accounts, there was hope Thursday afternoon that a deal could be struck. Both sides blamed the other after talks broke off.

Dayton “demonstrated a complete unwillingness to negotiate in good faith,” Wardlow said. It seems unlikely the GOP would offer an “alternative revenue stream,” as he calls it, without also agreeing to increased spending.

“For those strict constructionists — ‘not a penny more’ — [the tobacco deal] clearly goes against what they’ve been arguing,” said David Schultz, a public policy expert and occasional MinnPost contributor. “It looks like increased spending to me.”

When asked specifically how using bonds for the tobacco money to increase state spending wasn’t a violation of his group’s principles,Wardlow had nothing to say. “Oh, I’ve got to run,” he muttered. “I’ve got some work here.”

In meeting with their constituents over the Fourth of July, lawmakers had to defend the positions and convictions that helped drive the state to a shutdown. They could’ve used a deal last week.

“Might we have taken something like that?” Kiffmeyer said. “I don’t know. “I think it was worth a try.”

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 07/06/2011 - 10:55 am.

    “Dayton ‘demonstrated a complete unwillingness to negotiate in good faith,’ Wardlow said” is a pot calling the kettle black moment in the extreme.

    If one’s position is “Not one penny more” then that demanding total capitulation, not negotiating. I call Wardlow’s pitch low and outside.

  2. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/06/2011 - 11:09 am.

    Next time Republicans want to pretend they didn’t want this shutdown and it’s somehow Daytons’ fault, we should haul out one of those not one penny more posters. They’re emblematic of the Republican attitude, just like the ransom note of demands to allow more borrowing. “Give us everything we demand in this list, and we’ll agree to do something we want that you think is a lousy idea.”

  3. Submitted by Edward Langerak on 07/06/2011 - 11:27 am.

    Isn’t it the case that the real spending for the 10/11 included the 32 billion allocated budget plus the 2.5 billion of federal stimulus money (which Pawlenty and the Republicans argued against but agreed to take and spend)? If so, the actual base from which we should consider a 6% or 12% increase is not 32 billion, but 34.5 billion, and a 6% increase from that is upwards of 36.5 billion, less than what Dayton has requested. This increase, of course, would barely cover inflation, much less the increase in population, including school population, the elderly, unemployed, homeless, etc., which is why a 12% increase would not be unreasonable and should be the number from which Dayton compromises. I don’t understand why the Republicans are allowed to get away with their mantra that 34.5 billion includes a significant increase–it’s not an increase in what they actually spent, which is the relevant figure.

  4. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 07/06/2011 - 11:53 am.

    For some reason, it is critical for the pro-life party to fight tooth and nail to make darn sure 150,000 working poor cannot see a doctor when they are sick. That is the bottom line. They will do everything to prevent those working Minnesotan’s from maintaining their health care.

  5. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 07/06/2011 - 03:41 pm.

    “”You can’t throw a dart in the House” without finding a member of the group, freshman Rep. Mike Benson said.”

    Ok, I’m willing to try that out. For statistical significance, a lot of darts should be used.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/06/2011 - 04:12 pm.

    Far from being “new revenue,” the education and tobacco fund dollars they are “moving up” are actually thefts from the schools and from the purpose for which the tobacco fund was set up.

    Thank you, thank you, Governor. Stand strong!

  7. Submitted by Mark Stromseth on 07/06/2011 - 04:49 pm.

    If all these Repubs who failed Economics 101 in high school and college actually believe this rubbish about ‘not a penny more’ than $34 billion, then we should commit them to a state mental institution and not pay for it. Just lock them in, throw away the keys, and leave them to rot in their own squalor.

    Human Services costs (and thus the cost of government itself) grows primarily because as the population ages, senior citizens develop more health problems and need more healthcare services. And for those with no private insurance and/or unemployed, they need healthcare too, even though the Repubs would rather ignore their problems by pretending they don’t exist. They’d rather turn away from the problems of homelessness, hunger, and poverty than do anything to lift those people up and solve those problems.

    So if the Governor allows this nonsense about cutting everything and not increasing taxes to continue, the Repubs will soon find themselves in the same position they want to put all these other people who need services that government provides. But they’ll find themselves in a situation where there isn’t enough revenue coming in to pay for those services they need, so they’ll be subjected to their own death panel. How fitting.

    Make no mistake: this isn’t a spending problem, it’s a revenue problem. It can easily be fixed by increasing taxes on corporations and the richest residents. And they won’t flee the state, either. If that were true, then people wouldn’t live in the states that are taxed higher than we are, and corporations wouldn’t be based there, either.

  8. Submitted by Erich Russell on 07/06/2011 - 05:42 pm.

    This is off thread, but I can’t find a convient place to post in today’s news. Just a note that it would be helpful to report who is advocating for and against opening certain government functions before Gearin and Blatz. I am suspecting that there is some hypocrisy in the public positions concerning shutdown being advocated by both Parties.

  9. Submitted by will lynott on 07/06/2011 - 06:25 pm.

    I’m frankly stunned that the Rs were proposing to continue the Pawlenty strategy of kicking the can down the road, instead of dealing with the structural deficit once and for all. These are conservatives? They’re giving real conservatives a bad name.

  10. Submitted by Dave Callaway on 07/06/2011 - 07:41 pm.

    Not one penny more? Just wait for your next property tax bill!

    Thank you Governor Dayton, keep standing up against the extortionists!

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