Umbrage. That’s what Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk took after reading the Star Tribune this morning.
There he saw an op-ed article by his counterpart, Majority Leader David Senjem, insinuating that, by gosh, if it weren’t for “repeated efforts by the minority to throw us off course,” the Republicans would be getting much more done.
It’s hard to see how the rather-routine and often low-key Democratic opposition to Republican proposals could be seen as “distractions,” or obstruction, as Senjem (or one of his amanuenses) wrote.
But those were fighting words, and Bakk, his face more florid than usual, strode into the weekly press briefing (which Senjem did not attend) to answer them.
He and Senjem have been friends, he said, but the attack “is not the Senator Senjem I know.” What Minnesotans were most concerned about was jobs, but Republicans “have not created one job,” Bakk said.
In his op-ed, Senjem identified four areas where Republicans were trying to do God’s work for Minnesotans:
• The first was “job growth,” actually a proposal for business tax cuts that supposedly would stimulate economic activity.
• Second, education, where the GOP is laboring to repay the money the state borrowed from local school districts to close last year’s budget gap.
• Third, “election integrity,” which would eventually translate into a constitutional amendment requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls.
• Finally, infrastructure: Republicans, wrote Senjem, want a bonding bill that would concentrate on money for roads, bridges and other public works across the state.
Bakk was quick to dismiss the efficacy of and/or necessity for all four efforts.
The jobs bill, with its principal feature a phase-out of the state business property tax, is a giveaway that would cost the state $192 million, he contended. Already, budgeteers are projecting a $1.1 billion deficit for next year plus $1 billion for inflation. Adding $192 million to that won’t help matters, and the governor might not sign off on it.
Bakk didn’t directly address the school pay-back, but Democrats have insisted that the state follow the law enacted last year that requires refilling reserve funds before repaying school systems. This year, $318 million is scheduled to return to education. Republicans want to shift more from reserves and also use them to pay for business tax breaks.
Coming in for Bakk’s strongest criticism was the proposed Voter ID constitutional amendment. If you sat people down at kitchen tables and asked them what the 10 most important issues were, “I don’t think anybody would say voter ID,” he said. His view: Instead of focusing on that, Republicans should be taking action on the governor’s proposal to offer tax credits to businesses hiring vets, the unemployed and new grads — which would be offset by lower tax exemptions for corporations operating abroad.
Finally, Bakk said the Republicans’ proposal for $280 million worth of infrastructure projects is insufficient. “Democrats have no appetite to vote for such a small bill,” he said, and if there isn’t a compromise, legislators could adjourn without any bonding bill at all.
If there was an overarching theme to Bakk’s talk, it was his view that Democrats are not being obstructionists. Republicans, he said, are simply being inflexible.
Later this year, voters will get to offer their opinions on whom to blame.