Dayton expects lots of GOP ‘rock-throwing,’ even with limited legislative agenda

MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton would like to sign a nearly $1 billion package of construction projects to get crews on the roads and cranes up in the air as soon as possible.

Minnesota lawmakers will officially gavel in the 2014 session on Tuesday, and while it may be a shorter-than-usual season for policy-making, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton doesn’t expect the proceedings to be quiet.

With six Republicans eyeing his seat in the governor’s office, Dayton knows every move he makes in the short session could be used against him in his campaign for re-election this fall.

It’s already begun in the run-up to the session, with the GOP candidates railing on everything from Dayton’s new lieutenant governor pick to the rocky rollout of the state’s health insurance exchange, MNsure.

“The occupation of the Republicans is to make me and the DFL majority in the House look as bad as possible so they can defeat us in November,” Dayton told MinnPost in a wide-ranging interview the day before session.

“There will be no cooperation, and there will be all sorts of throwing rocks from the sidelines and trying to cause problems at every piece of significant piece of legislation to try and score their points,” he said.

Limited legislative agenda

For now, Dayton is keeping his legislative agenda fairly simple.  He is distancing himself from a push to legalize medical marijuana this year, as well as calls to pour major dollars into roads, bridges and transit this session.

But it’s also a bonding year, so he’d like to sign a nearly $1 billion package of construction projects to get crews on the roads and cranes up in the air as soon as possible. For that, however, he will need Republican cooperation to achieve the super-majorities needed for the bonding package.

He’s also been an outspoken supporter of a growing movement to significantly raise the state’s minimum hourly wage from $6.15 to $9.50 for large employers. While most businesses pay the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25 for large employers, Minnesota is one of just four states with a minimum wage that’s lower than the federal rate.

“I think there is growing recognition that our minimum wage is terribly outdated and inadequate,” Dayton said, adding that the $9.50 minimum wage increase would add about $477 million a year to the incomes of Minnesotans. “Those dollars then multiply through the local economies and the state and federal economies, and that’s what drives an economic recovery, and that’s what we need to be putting more emphasis on.”

He anticipates some increase will happen this session, though Dayton says it’s up to lawmakers to work out how high they are willing to go.

A Friday budget forecast will bring more clarity, but the governor and lawmakers also anticipate having a significant budget surplus to spend this session. Early numbers project a more than $1 billion surplus, with about $825 million left over after the school shift is repaid.

The governor has said he wants to use some of that money for tax cuts by conforming state and federal laws, including eliminating the marriage penalty and increasing the working family credit. He also wants to eliminate three business-to-business taxes passed just last session.  Dayton says each proposal will cost the state around $250 million.

Waiting on spending initiatives

 But he’s quiet on whether he will pursue any significant spending initiatives this year. He listed off a few smaller items he supports: $20 million for the low-income propane assistance fund to get Minnesotans through the bitter winter, about $7 million more for kids who can’t afford reduced-priced school lunches, and a 5 percent rate increase for group-home and long-term care workers. That proposal would cost about $86 million this year. 

“On the spending side, I am going to wait until after the Friday forecast to see. I agree with what Speaker [Paul] Thissen and Majority Leader [Tom] Bakk say, that this is not a spending session,” Dayton said. “My focus is going to be on tax reduction and on other aspects of the session.”

One of those other aspects will be his pitch to make 2014 the year of the “unsession,” a time to repeal weighty phrases and redundant language peppered throughout the state’s law books.  Dayton said he plans to unveil his proposal for the unsession shortly after the “dust settles” on the new budget forecast.

“It’s a complete streamlining in state government, eliminating a thousand pages of state statutes that are over-worded and outmoded and outdated,” he said. “We can make dealing with state government a lot simpler and less time-consuming and just a better experience for our citizens.”

At least one high-profile issue — the state’s troubled MNsure — will be outside the purview of the governor and legislators this year, Dayton said. The exchange’s website has been troubled with glitches since its rollout on Oct. 1.

“I would certainly do it differently,” Dayton said of MNsure, which was passed into law last session. “I don’t think there’s anything that the Legislature needs to do or can do really that’s going to affect these problems. These are operational problems and they are being corrected, and the system is working a lot better now. It’s not perfect yet, and that’s where it needs to be, and we are working toward that.”

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 02/25/2014 - 10:02 am.

    Waiting eagerly

    Even as I type, I’m sure the first Republican responses have been rolled out piously lamenting on how can they get anything done to help the good people of Minnesota when those darn Democrats insist on being so divisive and not cooperating. Dayton’s absolutely right even though they’ll take his statement and twist it against him. They’re the politician version of the kid who knocks over the tower of blocks because he didn’t get his way.

  2. Submitted by Michael Hess on 02/25/2014 - 10:23 am.

    Dismissive

    too bad the governor is so dismissive of the republican state legislature members – especially since so many of the new DFL ‘priorities’ like trying to fix some of the taxageddon from last year are in fact republican priorities from day one. i doubt the DFL and Gov will acknowledge republicans were right last year that the tax increases were excessive.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 02/25/2014 - 03:59 pm.

      Governor Dayton is not being dismissive

      he is just reflecting the Republican’s long history of being against everything. Without any positive Republican leadership all the Republican’s can do is say “no” because they can’t come up with any viable ideas of their own. They are too busy working on their social engineering projects in Minnesota and across the country. Every ten Republicans feel they are the Republican party. That is why the public got 4 different responses to the President’s State of the Union speech. It was a good way to demonstrate the shambles the party is in. It just made them look ridiculous. If you want a reflective look at how well Republican principles work just look how well Wisconsin is doing. Governor Dayton didn’t mess up Wisconsin.

  3. Submitted by Tim Brausen on 02/25/2014 - 12:33 pm.

    Tax increases seem to have balanced our budget

    and don’t appear to be a drag on the local economy or an impediment to job growth (unlike the low job growth under Gov. Pawlenty and his “no new taxes” policy.) I don’t see any major corporations moving out of state because of our “anti-competitive tax environment” as promised by the Republicans. All I see is a structurally sound budget and a tax system that generates adequate revenues in good times to provide for the basic governmental services that we all expect. I applaud the current government leaders for being willing to accept the responsibility and govern effectively for all of us, not just the well-off.

    Now hopefully we’ll be smart enough to bank some of the surplus for the next economic dip, so that we can continue to provide needed government services.

  4. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/25/2014 - 10:12 pm.

    Agreed!

    “All I see is a structurally sound budget and a tax system that generates adequate revenues in good times to provide for the basic governmental services that we all expect.”

    Now if we had a system that worked in average or bad times we’d really have something going. Given that the tax increases are finally beginning to be noticed (and probably repealed within the first two weeks of the session) it is early to celebrate the non-movement of corporations or wealthy people.

    $1 billion used to be our reserve so it would be nice to have it there again, not for the next (soon) downturn but for the flooding season, homeowner heat fund, and other emergencies.

  5. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/25/2014 - 10:14 pm.

    Dayton gets rock throwing started by throwing first rock

    Well planned Governor, well done!

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