The Democrats in control of Minnesota’s state government looked tired but pleased Tuesday morning, just a few hours after finishing up a grueling weekend-long tear of intense legislating.
They have a few regrets: not coming to a deal on increasing the minimum wage, not passing a larger infrastructure investment package and not addressing the mountainous backlog of transportation projects awaiting funding.
But the tired leadership stayed on message: This session was a success. It was the “education session” that they’d promised, with crucial investments in voluntary all-day kindergarten, early-learning scholarships and a tuition freeze for Minnesota’s college students.
They also stressed that they’d made good on their campaign promises to address skyrocketing property taxes and to craft a structurally balanced state budget that didn’t include shifts or gimmicks — positions that reporters had been hearing all session.
Republican legislative leaders disagree, however, and embarked Tuesday morning on a state fly-around to trash the DFL budget for raising taxes on middle-class Minnesotans and not reforming any state spending or programs.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, though defends the budget: “No gimmicks, no borrowing and we’re leaving to the next Legislature after the 2014 election no crisis to manage.”
“We did finally get past the partisan gridlock and balance our budget without gimmicks in a fair and honest way, and that is going to be a lasting legacy,” House Speaker Paul Thissen said, asserting that one-party control of state government turned out to be a successful proposition for Minnesota taxpayers.
The DFLers — who late Monday night wrapped up a $38 billion state budget that includes $2 billion in new taxes — now must sell the outcomes of this session to voters.
Democrats appeared genuinely to believe that they did the right thing.
“The nice thing about this, being able to stand up in front of you today, is to be able to say all this and not have it feel like spin,” Thissen said. “This is reality. These are things we actually did. I’m really proud that we can stand up here and not have to put some kind of media spin on the accomplishments we made this year.”
Bakk admitted they made some small mistakes that will have to be corrected next year and included some provisions that lawmakers will have to watch to see how they play out.
For example, the sales tax reform that Democrats passed on Monday evening includes a base expansion to some business services, including warehouse storage, that won’t go into effect right away so lawmakers can look for “unintended consequences.”
There will also need to be technical corrections to the tax bill next year, Bakk said, citing a different provision that made it in by mistake: a tax on farm machinery repairs.
“Everybody’s tired here, hasn’t slept in three days, so we have one little clinker in there. Like in any major piece of legislation, every one I’ve ever been involved in, you have to come back the next year and make some corrections to make sure that what you intended really happens.”
When asked to look forward, Bakk said he still had to digest all that legislators had accomplished this session, which ended technically at the beginning of today.
But he did have one forecast: Taxes aren’t likely to go up next year.
“We’re not going to have to come back here and raise new revenue next year because we have a balanced budget,” he said.