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Some questions — and answers — about Minnesota budget deal and what happens next

Among a long list of questions, the biggest question remains: Are there enough votes in the Legislature to get this deal done and get beer back on the shelves?

Will anyone dare mention the word "Vikings" in the state Capitol during this special session?
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Will anyone dare mention the word “Vikings” in the state Capitol during this special session?

At the conclusion of an interview today on Minnesota Public Radio, Gov. Mark Dayton quoted Yogi Berra to sum up the state of negotiations:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

But overall, the governor sounded confident that the deal is done; that he will call a special session as soon as Monday, and that lawmakers will sign off on the Thursday deal that he and GOP leaders reached.

Ah, but there remain so many questions:

• Will state workers be compensated for their time lost? (Dayton wants them to be.)

• How does the tobacco bond arrangement work?  

• Will Minnesota pols ever learn to get along?

• Will there be efforts to throw monkey wrenches — or social policy — into the bills?

• Is there a “rat” lurking behind the bonding bill portion of the settlement, or will those big carp be stopped at the Coon Rapids dam?

• Will anyone dare mention the word “Vikings” in the state Capitol during this special session?

But the biggest question of all is this:

• Are there enough votes in the Legislature to get this deal done and get beer back on the shelves?

The basic answer is that Republicans clearly are going to have to be almost universal in their support, because it appears that few DFLers will sign off on the revenue portion of this deal. Shifting school funds and selling tobacco bonds weren’t exactly what DFLers had in mind for resolving the budget stalemate.

Many DFLers are indicating they will not support the deal.  

But should they?

“I wouldn’t vote for it,” the governor said. “It’s the Republicans’ responsibility.”

Dayton did go on to say that there are other portions of the settlement — the K-12 bill, for example — that he believes DFLers will support.

But that takes us back to the big question: Can the Republican legislative leadership get almost unanimous support for this deal?

Despite all the “not one penny more” talk of the most strident members of the Republican caucus throughout the session, the answer appears to be that in the end, Republicans will follow the leaders.

The first big clue that Republicans will vote thumbs up on the deal came in the form of a press release from Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton Friday morning.

Tony Sutton
Tony Sutton

Sutton was singing the praises of the deal, and Republicans have tended to head in the direction party leaders point.

“In the wake of what has been a highly partisan, campaign-like atmosphere since Gov. Dayton shut down state government on July 1,” Sutton said in a statement, “it might be tempting today for some to declare a partisan victory in negotiations. And while the Republican Party certainly salutes House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch for being strong advocates of controlling taxes while showing a willingness to negotiate on budget details, we realize that a budget that slows the exponential growth of government is but one important step toward returning Minnesota to prosperity and growth.

“While the media, the pundits and the people of Minnesota overwhelmingly are characterizing the governor’s decision a victory for Republicans, at the end of the day the real winners are the people of Minnesota.”

In other words, the party is telling GOP pols to vote yes.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, predicts that even in the Senate, where the most strident Republican block exists, there will be unanimous Republican support for the deal.

He noted that on virtually every issue this session, the Republicans voted as a 37-0 block on big votes.

“If they step out of line, it’s off with their heads,” said Marty, contemptuously.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, also said he expects that his brothers and sisters will fall in line behind the deal.

There will be grumbling, he predicted, about the school shift, and some will be upset about the loss of some of the policy provisions the GOP had written into budget bills. But the big policy issue for most Republicans — Voter ID — only disappears momentarily, Senjem said.

“We’ll have that on the ballot as an amendment,” he said.

Others, such as Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, were predicting universal support among Republicans.

“When your leaders ask for something, you have a huge obligation to support them,” Howe said.

Some other big questions:

• Is there support for the bonding bill?
The governor is claiming that one of his victories in the deal that so many DFLers are bemoaning is the $500 million bonding bill that was a part of his agreement with GOP leaders.

But Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, fears “she smells a rat” in this portion of the deal. She’s hearing rumblings that there were “no guarantees” from Republican leaders to Dayton that they could deliver the votes in support of a bonding bill.

Rep. Alice Hausman
Rep. Alice Hausman

Remember, bonding bills require super-majorities, meaning 81 votes in the House and 42 in the Senate.  That means Republicans and DFLers need to agree on this portion of the deal — and you know how that’s been working out.  

There was some rapid wheeling and dealing going on at the Capitol today as legislators worked to rebuild a bonding package.

In the end, DFLers who feel so let down over the framework of the budget deal probably will be inclined to support bonding. (The only reason they didn’t support a bonding bill earlier in the session is because they thought it was far too small.)

Ultimately, this is a part of the deal that their union supporters want  because bonding will create jobs in the construction industry.

Bonding also generally gets the support of local chambers of commerce, too, meaning as much as Republicans hate spending money, they don’t want to block a project in their district.

And everyone will likely agree to do the project at the Coon Rapids dam designed to block those flying carp from entering our lakes.

Still, the big question remains unanswered: Will Republican leadership deliver their caucuses?

“It is their obligation,” said Hausman.

• Will something change to end this constant budget angst?
Even after this disastrous session and settlement that pleases no one, there are optimists among legislators.

About a week ago, Sens. Howe and Ann Rest (a Republican and a DFLer, respectively), along with Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, met with Dayton to talk about some fundamental changing of the tax structure that presumably would help bring some stability to state government finance.

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These three are among growing numbers of legislators and good-government types who believe Minnesota must move away from its reliance on the income tax if it’s ever going to become financially stable.

The  three believe the sales tax — a “consumption tax,” in Howe’s words — is the answer.

Howe would like to see the income tax all but disappear. DFLers believe there always will be a place for a more progressive tax. (Recall that phrase, “tax the rich.”)

But both sides appear to believe that if the sales tax were broadened to include services, the rate could be dropped and the state would be a winner.

Howe, for one, believes this is the sort of reform the governor and Republicans will work on together.

• Are tobacco bonds good for you?
When governor Tim Pawlenty proposed using tobacco money to float bonds to help fix the budget woes of the state, he was danged near laughed out of the Capitol — by Republicans!

The option of using tobacco funds to plug the budget was defeated 132-2 in the Minnesota House, with such people as current House Speaker Kurt Zellers voting against the idea.

Now, it’s going to be a major player. It works like this: As part of the tobacco settlement of 1998, tobacco companies have been paying substantial amounts of money into the state’s general fund. In the next two years, tobacco is supposed to pay Minnesota about $320 million.

The money fluctuates, based on the profitability of the tobacco companies, sales of the products, etc.

Now, that revenue would be used to support the sale of state bonds. But of course, that means we pay back to bondholders more than we receive.

During the depths of the credit crunch, states were having a difficult time selling these bonds. But now state officials say, there is a market for the bonds, which will be relatively low grade, meaning the state will be hit with a relatively high rate of interest.

• Skol, Vikings?
Conversations with a substantial number of legislators makes it seem unlikely that the Viking stadium issue will be brought up in this particular special session.

In fact, most legislators either start gagging or laughing at the notion that anyone would talk “Vikings” at this moment. Why, after all, would legislators already facing the wrath of Minnesotans for their part in shutting down government, want to start tossing money at the owners of the football team?

On a public radio interview Friday morning, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk suggested that there may be some talk about the Vikes in the special session; but talk is cheap. There won’t be serious money talk until a special session in the fall.

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