Skepticism, lack of enthusiasm greet ‘third way’ budget solution plan

Former Gov. Arne Carlson speaks to the media Tuesday morning as former Vice President Walter Mondale looks on.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Former Gov. Arne Carlson speaks to the media Tuesday morning as former Vice President Walter Mondale looks on.

A “third way” committee was unveiled this morning, hours before Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders were scheduled to meet to resume budget talks.

The big question surrounding this committee, which was the brainchild of former Gov. Arne Carlson and former Vice President Walter Mondale, is whether it will have any power — or even influence — to end the dispute that has shut down the bulk of Minnesota state government.

Early returns are not particularly promising, because Republican leadership has not shown much enthusiasm for the six-member committee.

At a news conference at Minneapolis City Hall this morning, Carlson said that when he spoke with Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch on Monday about the committee, she said it would be better if Carlson and Mondale came to her office and “negotiated” about the formation and purpose of the committee.

Carlson, Mondale out of committee picture
Carlson declined that opportunity, saying that such a meeting could diminish the total independence of the committee. Mondale and former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, who supports the committee idea, and Carlson will have NO role in whatever ideas that the committee comes up with.

“At the conclusion of this news conference, we ride into the sunset,” Carlson said.

Mondale nodded his head in agreement.

Republican legislative leaders have consistently backed away from the idea of bringing third parties into the failed negotiations.

When Dayton, for example, suggested that mediators be brought into the process to help get budget talks out of the deep rut they’ve been in since January, Republican legislative leaders said, “No.”

“We were elected to lead,” House Speaker Kurt Zellers said in an interview about the idea of using mediators.

Koch issued a statement reiterating the leadership’s traditional stand on outside help but not closing the door completely on the group’s effort:

“Governor Mark Dayton, Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers and I were elected to be the principal negotiators on how to best solve the state budget deficit. Republicans in the Legislature will continue to maintain our strong commitment against raising taxes and holding the line on runaway government spending. Recent polling showed that a vast majority of Minnesotans support our approach to holding spending levels the same or reduce spending even further.

“I am always open to hearing thoughts and suggestions from all Minnesotans. I would welcome any advice and insight that helps to solve this state budget deficit in a fiscally responsible way.”

However, earlier, Michael Brodkorb, communications director for Senate majority and the deputy chairman of the Republican Party, had issued tweets indicated that party bosses aren’t impressed by the formation of a committee.

“As in 02, Mondale is coming in to save his party as they face a major political crisis; this time due to Dayton shutdown,” Brodkorb tweeted at one point.

Dayton open to outside suggestions
It is clear that Dayton supports the notion of at least listening to any resolutions a nonpartisan committee of experts might recommend.

After all, his commissioner of Management and Budget, Jim Showalter, will be the “administrator” of the committee, which is made up of former legislators Steve Dille (Republican) and Wayne Simoneau (DFL), former budget commissioners John Gunyou (under Carlson) and Jay Kiedrowski (under Rudy Perpich) and business leaders James Campbell and Kris Johnson.

Showalter’s role is crucial, Carlson said, because the committee will need up-to-date state revenue data if it is to come up with workable ideas.

Even reporters at the news conference seemed skeptical about the committee’s work.

One reporter questioned whether the idea actually came directly from Dayton.

Carlson said that was NOT the case and, in fact, that he’d been blogging about the idea for weeks.

Another reporter wondered if a non-elected committee should be involved in the state budget process.

“Government is in deadlock, frozen,” said Mondale. “We have to find a process.”

Carlson noted that U.S. presidents frequently have turned to outside committees to attempt to find solutions to sticky political problems.

In fact, the only real power of this committee will be a good idea, which the public can embrace.

Neither Carlson nor Mondale was predicting that will happen.

But both sang the praises of the expertise those assembled.

The committee will work behind closed doors, the two old pols said. Members will not even necessarily announce when and where they will meet.

The public — via the media — will learn of what the committee is recommending, only after its work is done, Carlson said.

Committee’s end result could be ‘distasteful’ to both sides
The end result of the committee’s work, Carlson predicted, may be “distasteful” to both sides.

Mondale and Carlson both had only one fundamental request of this committee: speed.

Both former leaders fear that the Minnesota shutdown may become a symbol of the federal budget debate.

If national organizations start picking sides in the Minnesota shutdown, the dispute will only become more difficult to resolve, Mondale said.

“I love Minnesota,” Mondale said. “I think we are special — a little different and better than other states.”

If the shutdown continues, he said, “we will be overwhelmed by national pressures.”

Carlson bristled a bit at reporter questions that implied that the committee would tend to lean toward the governor’s position in the dispute.

He noted that Campbell, former CEO of Wells Fargo, and Johnson, a former vice president at Medtronic, are on the committee.

“Not exactly flaming liberals,” Carlson said.

But he said it was important to have business representation on the committee, because job creation is vital to this process.

Carlson does have a longer-term hope for the committee. He hopes that after it comes up with some sort of a plan to resolve the immediate dispute, it can continue to work to put forward ideas that would change — and bring more stability — to the budgeting process in Minnesota.

As it’s currently set up — with the governor required to come forward with a budget so early in the session — there’s little time to create real reforms in how the state is taxed and how various agencies function.

But the immediate push is for the committee to come up with a compromise solution that may not please idealists on either side but would get government functioning again.

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

Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 07/05/2011 - 01:25 pm.

    Dayton, Koch, and Zellars need to be recalled. The heads of the political parties need to butt out. That is the only way to get rid of this logjam. There are too many egos in play to ever resolve the issues on the table using the current team.

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 07/05/2011 - 01:34 pm.

    So, what’s the plan? Is this like some sort of binding arbitration proposal which requires the Governor and the leadership of the Hose and Senate to agree to? Would this work if Arne Carlson went to Amy Koch and negotiated with her for different committee members? The problem here is that the Republican leadership has painted itself into a corner now with no room to maneuver itself out. It looks to me like there’s no way to end the shutdown until the next election or maybe two.

  3. Submitted by Michael Corcoran on 07/05/2011 - 01:49 pm.

    Arnie’s hubris is beyond annoying… David and Walter should have known better than to get involved in this pathetic attempt to attract attention.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/05/2011 - 02:03 pm.

    Have I completely missed the recent polling showing “that a vast majority of Minnesotans support [the Republican] approach”? Even if that were the case, I thought the Republican party’s position was based on policy, not polls.

    Frankly, I don’t care which side blames the other for the shutdown. They’ve all played games with the budget since the Legislature convened in January. From what I’ve read in recent days, the Republicans have continued to do so while Dayton has sought compromise.

    I’d call it a Mexican standoff, but I see no reason to insult Mexico. It is clear, however, that neither side can achieve all that it desires. It’s time to compromise, so get to it.

  5. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 07/05/2011 - 02:20 pm.

    To “balance” the committee, Koch and Zellers probably want some representatives from the anarchists group that endorsed their anti-government stand a couple weeks ago. Maybe Joe the Plumber too!

  6. Submitted by Lauren Maker on 07/05/2011 - 02:26 pm.

    The GOP is blindly clinging to their no new taxes pledge. They are ignoring that they’ve lost the Recovery Act revenue AND that they kicked the $2 billion owed to education into this budget cycle–esstentially putting it on the credit card with no plan to pay it off.
    So why don’t they agree to a “revenue enhancement” to make up for the lost funds and the credit card bill–assessed only to those with net income of over a million dollars.
    As Tim Pawlenty showed with the cigarette “fees”, a tax by any other name raises revenue just as sweetly. Win-win.

  7. Submitted by Nate Arthur on 07/05/2011 - 02:46 pm.

    “Even reporters at the news conference seemed skeptical about the committee’s work.”

    Doug – somehow this point rings hollow. A skeptical reporter???! Unheard of!

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/05/2011 - 03:05 pm.

    “Reasonable”? “Responsible”? “Compromise”?

    What gives anyone the idea that “wise-men” are wanted by the legislators?

  9. Submitted by Lora Jones on 07/05/2011 - 03:08 pm.

    #4. No, you haven’t missed anything. I searched again, all over, for some poll saying that “cuts only” had somehow gained approval over the last month. There isn’t one. If I’m very kind (and totally uncritical, which I am not wont to be), Koch’s statement may have arisen from a absolute misreading of the recent the KSTP poll — which indicated that most Minnesotan’s believe the state should decrease spending. That isn’t even an issue! We will be decreasing spending no matter what budget proposal is eventually adopted. It’s a meaningless and leading question.

    Given her “confidence,” I also suspect that she was too busy patting herself and Zellers on the back over Dayton’s net approval being -1 to notice that the Legislature’s (i.e., hers and Zellers) was -40.

    They’re on the wrong side of this, ethically, morally, pragmatically and politically. Aargh!

  10. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/05/2011 - 04:09 pm.

    There are good reasons to be skeptical of this sort of noblesse oblige proposal. The Republicans, however, are so bound up in their own partisan mindset that they are incapable of making them. Instead of raising the liegitimate point that a commission is just another way to abduicate responsibility, Mr. Brodkorb results to a “neener-neener-neener, it’s a sign of weakness” taunt. No sensible argument, no reasons, just that a Democrat suggested it so that must reflect badly on the Governor. It’s all something you might have heard in grade school.

    With people like this backing them up, is it any wonder that the Republican Party has made a (grimly unfunny) farce out of this legislative session?

  11. Submitted by Lance Groth on 07/05/2011 - 04:34 pm.

    Re #1 – I’m not sure the leadership is the real problem. The repub leadership has the problem of a large freshman class that came to St. Paul on an almost religious mission of reducing government. They don’t care about traditional politics, and many of them may not care about re-election either. The leadership faces the problem of mutiny if they compromise in a way that their membership won’t support.

    Dayton has already compromised several times, so I don’t see him as part of the problem. He has repeatedly, since taking office, offered his hand to the repubs, only to have it firmly slapped away.

    Re #3 & #8 – these statements are symptomatic of the problem. Rather than responding with insults or attributing the worst of possible motivations (wanting “attention”), it would behoove us all to see if the elder statesmen have anything to offer. We’ll never get this resolved if all we do is respond with insults and refusal to negotiate. I mourn the death of civility in America. We should be better than this, but it seems we have devolved to a nation of grunting barbarians brandishing clubs.

  12. Submitted by Comsnr. Bill Weir on 07/05/2011 - 04:43 pm.

    1> Inflation – lower value of the US dollar, higher prices for what the state will be buying – accounts for a large part of the need for the Dayton budget rather than the Anti-Tax Party budget. Why does no one else point this out?!?

    2> Those Minnesotans with annual incomes more than a million dollars have in recent years been paying a lower percentage of their income for government than have middle-income Minnesotans.
    The proposed state income tax increase only partially corrects this fault in what is supposed to be a progressive tax system, that is, as income increases, tax percentage increases.

    3> Tax Expenditures (commonly called “loop holes”) have long served to incentivize tax payers, but a recent Citizens League report points out needs for reducing or eliminating those that have outlived their time to serve the State’s interests. Once they have adopte the biennial general fund budget, legislators need to attend to this report’s recommendations.

  13. Submitted by Patricia Kelly on 07/05/2011 - 05:20 pm.

    I agree that Amy Koch is mistaken in her assertions about what the people of Minnesota want. The people of Minnesota elected Mark Dayton who campaigned on a proposal to increase taxes on the very wealthiest Minnesotans. And, more Minnesotans voted for Democratic legislators than for Republicans. The fact that Amy Koch is the Senate Majority Leader does not mean that she enjoys the support of a majority of Minnesotans.

    Furthermore, the Republicans have not moved one inch on their demands; in fact, they have moved the goal posts in the opposite direction! Their so-called budget proposal was less about the budget than about social issues. Their “budget” demands for a reversal of Dayton’s vetoes, for which they could not muster overrides, is just holding the State hostage to the fact that they lost on those issues.

    This is not governing. I am sick and tired of Grover Norquist, someone who has not been elected to office in Minnesota, pulling the strings. It’s long past the time for the legislative leaders to step up, and act in the best interests of all Minnesotans.

  14. Submitted by Paul Crawford on 07/05/2011 - 05:23 pm.

    This “third way” committee needs a right-wing whack job on it otherwise it’s inconsequential.

    “We will be decreasing spending no matter what budget proposal is eventually adopted.”

    Lora, sorry but you’re wrong about that. Both budgets increase spending.

    Democrats have done a poor job of framing this debate in terms of dollars versus service. They should be talking about cuts in terms of services not dollars. Polling shows people don’t want government to spend more but they also don’t want services taken away during a recession. The average citizen doesn’t understand that these issues are mutually exclusive.

  15. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/05/2011 - 05:44 pm.

    Koch is whistling in the dark.

  16. Submitted by Paul Crawford on 07/05/2011 - 06:58 pm.

    Patricia, I agree with your sentiment, but you’re wrong about more Minnesotans voted for Democratic legislators than Republicans. Here are the totals:

    STATE HOUSE:
    • Republicans candidates: 1,036,019 votes (50.99%)
    • DFL candidates: 995,853 votes (49.01%)

    STATE SENATE:
    • Republican candidates: 1,021,633 votes (50.41%)
    • DFL candidates: 1,005,132 votes (49.59%)

    I think Republicans are misreading their slim election as a mandate. The GOP House will pay dearly for this shutdown in 2012. Their leadership stinks worse than Dayton’s at this point. Too bad he bucked MAK because she’s better at messaging and communicating to voters, she would have helped out the Democrats who narrowly lost so the election wouldn’t have seemed so lopsided, she would have taken votes from Horner, and we’d probably have a budget that would have avoided shutdown. A more progressive solution than we will eventually end up with.

  17. Submitted by Wayne Swickley on 07/05/2011 - 07:29 pm.

    Should not the word “intransegeance” also be in the title of this article?

  18. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/05/2011 - 09:13 pm.

    Two young inexperienced Republican leaders (in name only) are looking to save face. Zeller’s and Koch have pasted the point of saving face and don’t realize it. They had their chance to lead and blew it. They miscalculated what the public wanted when they were elected. We didn’t want social engineering, we didn’t want extreme positions, we didn’t want intransigence, we didn’t want the middle class and the poor to carry the financial load, we didn’t want gridlock. We had 8 years of all of this with Pawlenty. We wanted leadership and didn’t get it. Now it is time to learn from this teachable moment that governing is no a zero sum game it is the chance to work for everybody in Minnesota not just a special few.

  19. Submitted by Madeline Anderson on 07/05/2011 - 09:40 pm.

    As much as I am disgusted with both Dayton and the GOPers for not striking a deal, THIS is not the answer.

    Good for Growe for noting the skepticism of reporters.

    We get the government we elect.

    Relying on guys in their late 70s (isn’t Mondale over 80 now?) to figure out today’s problems is a recipe for irrelevance.

  20. Submitted by Patrick Wells on 07/05/2011 - 10:54 pm.

    Hard to argue with a blue ribbon commission when the legislature fails to do its job.

    Above all else, the citizenery wants the job done. Closed state parks and 22,000 state employees on the unemployment rolls reflects a failure of the legislative process.

    It is true that the legislature has the authority of being elected. However, the inability to intelligently negotiate a budget calls into question the legislature’s authority because elected officials are expected by the voters to negotiate to a reasonable compromise. Continuing government is part of the legislature’s job. A shutdown is a failure by the legislature to do its job. No legislature has unlimited authority to deliver preverse outcomes, like the shutdown.

  21. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 07/06/2011 - 06:25 am.

    Try googling “welfare + MN” Third listed.

    http://www.startribune.com/politics/blogs/112933714.html

    Census numbers, just in time for today’s talking points, say MN welfare spending at 37% (updated)
    Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Funding, Health care, Minnesota governor, Gov. Mark Dayton Updated: January 5, 2011 – 4:10 PM 24 commentsprint

    Just as a debate on Minnesota health care spending rushes in at the Capitol, the Census Bureau offered some numbers to prime the pump.
    “State government spending on public welfare was greater than 30 percent of general expenditures in 11 states, led by Minnesota (37.5 percent),” the government numbers bureau said in a news release Wednesday.
    The numbers come from the Census’ report on State Government Finances. Dig in to the numbers here.
    Worth noting: Although the Capitol debate Wednesday will focus on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in charge when the numbers rose.
    (This post has been corrected to reflect that the 37.5 percent is a total percentage of spending. The state department of human services also says: “there are health care costs included in the definition of public welfare used by the Census Bureau that we don’t account for in the same way in the state budget.”)

  22. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/06/2011 - 07:19 am.

    (#11)…it would behoove us all to see if the elder statesmen have anything to offer…

    It’s my impression that a large portion of the legislators are impervious to facts and fall under “we make our own reality, now” position of the larger Republican party.

    I have no doubt that the “wise men” would not be in favor of the drastic cuts inherent in the Republican position, and perhaps be shocked at how much Dayton has given up in his compromises.

    That is the missing component–a simplistic, perhaps mythical, poll that does not reflect the idea that keeping spending at the last biennium level is not holding steady but rather is a severe cut is cited instead of the real effect of a hold-steady poll.

    The Republicans should be honest enough to admit that their position entails severe pain and that Dayton’s compromises are close to their level of pain, but no, anything other than their number is an extravagant waste!

    So that is why I am cynical as the possible effect of “wise men” on the fact-impervious legislators. After all, they not intending to make “factual statements”.

    That is the fundamental dishonesty of the current session–it’s all been about the numbers, but it really is about the services delivered, people helped and projects funded.

    And under the legislators’ and Dayton’s budgets, people, services and projects WILL be hurt.

  23. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 07/06/2011 - 12:12 pm.

    #19 says: “Relying on guys in their late 70s (isn’t Mondale over 80 now?) to figure out today’s problems is a recipe for irrelevance.” So much for respect for government service and an attempt to come to compromise…I’m wondering why #19 is so quick to disregard those with ideas for getting out of this mess simply because they’re older and wiser? When does one become “irrelevant?” The “kids” in the Legislature don’t seem to be doing a very mature or relevant job of it so far!

  24. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/06/2011 - 04:22 pm.

    Yesterday, it sounded as though the committee would be very corporate, but I see today that its membership includes excellent (and non-ideological) public servants from both parties.

  25. Submitted by Tim Larkin on 07/07/2011 - 05:29 am.

    Can I suggest the obvious? Dayton was elected because Tom Horner siphoned off 11% of the traditional Republican vote. Governor Trust Fund still won by a margin of 9000 votes, not exactly a landslide. Therefore, he has zero mandate. Isn’t it also obvious that Governor Trust Fund is acting on orders from Washington to go to a shutdown as a proxy battle to gauge reaction? Isn’t it obvious that national Dems are interested in public reaction for their national debt ceiling battle? They’re taking the exact same track as DFLers. As the KSTP poll indicates…voters aren’t amused! This shutdown is necessary because one side wants to spend and tax more and one side wants to cut more! Isn’t at least that much obvious?

  26. Submitted by steve anderson on 07/09/2011 - 09:04 am.

    Wow the third wheel group sure came up with some great ideas. Raise taxes. Seems to be they along with Dayton admit we are spending too much so lets focus on reducing the spending instead. If the forecast indicate a certain amount of revenue is coming in, let us try ONLY spend within that amount. I think it is called living within your means. Money does not grow on trees, it comes from hard working people so lets not be so free with other peoples money.

  27. Submitted by will lynott on 07/10/2011 - 07:43 am.

    Oooh, #25–Governor Trust Fund? Oooh, that stings!

    Class envy is ugly.

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