While the 2013 Minnesota Legislature still has unfinished work, it appears that both DFLers and Republicans will go home happy.
DFLers – in full control of state government for the first time since 1990 – will be able to boast of a long list of accomplishments that should satisfy their liberal base and perhaps appeal to folks in the political center.
Republicans will see some of these same accomplishments as potent political issues that they can use in next year’s gubernatorial and Minnesota House races, particularly in swing districts in suburban and ex-urban areas.
As usual, the final weekend of the session was long and often unruly, as the two houses struggled to complete their work, including final passage of the nine spending and tax bills that will constitute the state’s budget for the next two years. They must complete that work by midnight Monday.
Curiously, the House DFL leadership spent many hours over the weekend working on a bill that would enable two politically powerful unions to conduct organizing votes among child-care workers and personal-care attendants. The controversial bill diverted attention from higher-priority budget measures that benefited many more Minnesotans. The Senate-passed bill still awaits a final House vote.
Nonetheless, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said Sunday that political gridlock is over and the 2013 session is shaping up as the most productive one she has participated in.
“We are completing work on the first structurally balanced budget since before the Great Recession,” Murphy said. “We are making historic investments in education, including full funding for all-day kindergarten and a tuition freeze that will help our debt-ridden college students. And we are providing meaningful property tax relief to middle class Minnesotans who have seen their property taxes skyrocket. “
Republicans saw it differently. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, told colleagues that budget bills this session were “continuing the march toward more taxes and more spending and more government.”
“The message from the Democratic Party is, ‘It’s not enough. It’s not enough taxing. It’s not enough spending,’” said Rep. Pat Garafolo, R-Farmington.
The DFL’s list of major accomplishments this session include:
Balancing the state budget, erasing a $627 million budget shortfall and repaying all but $860 million of the $2.7 billion school-aid shift used to help balance previous state budgets, with the remainder to come within four years.
Raising income taxes on the upper 2 percent of Minnesotans and making the state’s overall tax structure more progressive.
Delivering on promises to boost state support for K-12 education, including $134 million to fund all-day kindergarten statewide and $46 million for early childhood scholarships.
Imposing a two-year freeze on tuition at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and the University of Minnesota.
Establishing a health-insurance exchange that will allow individuals and small businesses to shop for coverage.
Enacting a law permitting same-sex marriage just a year after a Republican proposal to ban such unions was rejected by the voters.
For several DFL constituencies, there were obvious disappointments. Gun safety advocates were angry that the two houses shied away from any legislation – including bans on military-style assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines or expanded background checks – intended to stem gun violence.
Transportation advocates failed to secure increases in the metro sales tax for transit and the gasoline tax for highways. This failure likely will delay the development of the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) project and other plans to expand the regional transit system.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Barring a breakthrough on the final day of the session, organized labor will go home without an increase in the state minimum wage. House DFLers passed a bill that would increase the state minimum wage from $6.15 an hour to $9.50, but Senate DFLers said they would not go higher than $7.75.
Members of the Republican minority also will emerge with issues they can talk about in next year’s political campaign. They likely will assail DFLers for:
Enacting the largest tax increase in Minnesota history, harming the state’s business climate and the 20,000 small business owners who pay individual income taxes on their business income.
Increasing state spending, growing government and adding 1,300 new positions instead of streamlining government and making it more efficient.
Attempting in the House to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, which they say would have been another job killer, particularly in rural Minnesota.
Trying to raise legislative pay and then proposing a constitutional amendment to do so.
Rushing to legalize same-sex marriage, which may not play well in some rural and suburban districts.
While Republicans were closed out of the tax and budget negotiations, they flexed their limited political muscles in the House to block an $800 million capital investment bill. House members voted 76-56 in favor of the measure, but that was five votes short of the three-fifths majority needed to pass a bonding bill. All but three Republicans voted against it.
Early Monday, the Senate approved a scaled-back $132 million bonding measure that includes money to repair the deteriorating Capitol building. Some version of that bill still could be passed before the two houses adjourn.