Everyone is eagerly awaiting Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal, which will contain his proposed tax changes and increases that will be at the heart of legislative debates.
The governor’s proposal won’t come until Jan. 22, but there were hints Friday that the governor won’t be just tweaking the tax system.
“We will see a historical shift on the 22nd,” said Bob Hume, a representative of Dayton’s office. Legislative leaders and Hume spoke to members of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, whose members clearly leaned to the DFL side of the political spectrum.
He offered no specifics but was clear that the budget proposal would include both program cuts and tax increases. Hume — who was filling in for the governor, who still is recuperating from back surgery — also indicated that the Dayton proposal won’t necessarily be embraced by a substantial number of DFLers.
“The budget proposal will be a jumping-off point,’’ Hume said, signaling that even the governor doesn’t expect his plan to sail through the DFL-controlled Legislature.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Paul Thissen represented the DFL, and Deputy Senate Minority Leader Dave Thompson and Assistant House Minority Leader Jennifer Loon spoke for Republicans.
Each of the leaders spoke at different times, meaning there were shades of differences between what Bakk and Thissen said they consider important in this session. Even Loon and Thompson had different tones as they offered their views on the budget and other state issues.
Loon offered a softer tone, which was in keeping with the view that Republican House members will be a bit more moderate than their Senate colleagues.
But back to the budget, because all four legislative leaders were in agreement that it is the No. 1 priority.
DFL cooperation, if not acceptance
Although Dayton doesn’t expect universal acceptance of his plan, the governor is counting on a sense of cooperation among DFL legislators and his office when it’s time to iron out details of a budget. That sort of cooperation hasn’t existed in more than a decade.
Dayton, Hume said, is very hopeful that substantial changes will ultimately be made in the tax code. The fundamentals guiding those changes, Hume said, will be a sense of “progressivity” in the Minnesota system.
He described the Jan. 22 proposal as the governor’s “first ideas — let’s sit down and talk about them.”
All, though, should understand one thing: “The tax system is old and broken and is in need of repair,” Hume said.
Although the scope of Dayton’s proposal is unknown, Thompson and Loon did get nods of approval from the crowd when they both talked about how the deduction for charitable giving should not be removed from the tax code. (The nonprofits, of course, depend mightily on charitable giving.)
Thompson, one of the most no-new-taxes conservatives in the Legislature, used the nods of approval to make a point: Everybody wants somebody else to pay higher taxes.
“Tax the other guy, don’t tax me,” said Thompson. “Don’t subsidize the other guy, subsidize me.’’
This led to a bit of a protest from at least one person in the audience.
“Your narrative is interesting, but it doesn’t jive with my experiences,’’ the man said. He went on to say that in his “faith community” there are large numbers of people willing to pay higher taxes.
Thompson was mellow in response: “That may be true. But in my experience, I’ve never had someone come into my office and say, ‘Tax me more.’ I hear it in theory, but I’ve never had it happen in practice.’’
The senator received polite applause — from most in the room — when his portion of the program was completed.
There was much more enthusiasm for Bakk and Thissen, although both urged patience about the process that began with the election of new majorities.
Difference in tone, priorities
What was interesting about the Bakk-Thissen presentations — remember, they spoke at separate times — were the differences in tone. When Republicans took control of the Legislature two years ago, there was a big effort for the House and Senate to speak from the same script.
This time around, it appears that there will be some differences between the two chambers.
Bakk, for example, was very specific in laying out Senate priorities, beyond the budget:
- Complete a health exchange bill by late March.
- Fund all-day kindergarten.
- Raise the state’s minimum wage.
- Raise the threshold for getting amendments to the ballot from simple legislative majority to “a super majority” of 60 percent. (Under a 60 percent rule, neither of the two amendments that Minnesotans defeated in November would have made the ballot.)
Mostly, though, what Bakk talked about was patience. “My job is to manage your expectations,” he told the crowd.
Thissen, who used such old liberal phrases as “social justice,” offered a different list of post-budget priorities:
2. Workforce development.
4. Energy policy.
He also said that immigration and issues surrounding aging need to be dealt with by the Legislature.
But mostly, between now and Jan. 22, legislators will be waiting for the Dayton budget proposal.
“I’m seeing an excitement in Mark Dayton I haven’t seen before,” said Hume. “This is our moment.”