Gov. Mark Dayton’s outburst Tuesday toward senators of his own party was the sort of event that had Republicans chortling and DFLers trying to shrug it off as “no big thing.’’
It may not have been a “big thing,’’ but most pols acknowledge such a public display is rare.
Most can’t imagine that Gov. Tim Pawlenty would ever have lambasted his own in the public way that Dayton did. Even churlish Arne Carlson, who often seemed angry at everybody, wouldn’t have been so publicly critical of his party’s legislative leadership as Dayton was, according to legislators who served under Carlson.
That’s not to say that Pawlenty and Carlson didn’t have differences with their legislative leaders, but those differences were aired behind closed doors.
Neither Pawlenty nor Carlson, both Republicans, ever were in a situation comparable to Dayton’s. At times during their administrations, the House was controlled by the GOP, but the Senate always was in DFL hands.
Teamwork seems elusive
Dayton, the Senate and the House all are supposed to be on the same team. But teamwork has been elusive.
Quick background: Dayton made it publicly clear that he was disgusted with the way a tax bill was held up in the Senate after it quickly passed in the House. In the process, he criticized Senate leadership over appearing to tie tax bill action to House approval of construction of a new Senate office building.
DFL senators on Wednesday were publicly trying to shrug off the event. But apparently a handful of the Senate’s most progressive members met with the governor Wednesday morning, and it’s clear the Senate is at least picking up speed on a tax bill that apparently won’t have major differences from the House bill.
Meantime, Republicans don’t quite seem to know what to do with the political gifts that the split-up DFL is handing them.
Some are crediting Dayton for being “a strong leader” for publicly calling out Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk’s apparent efforts to hold up the tax bill in exchange for a new Senate office building.
GOP quick to criticize Dayton
On the other hand, a number of Republicans, especially those hoping to end up as the GOP gubernatorial candidate, are lambasting Dayton for signing off last year on tax bills — and the office building — that he now wants changed.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, a gubernatorial candidate, issued this statement, which was typical of the GOP criticisms of Dayton:
Make no mistake about it, Gov. Dayton is not innocent. He advocated and signed into law the very taxes he now wants repealed. He wants a “mulligan.” We need a governor who gets it right the first time.
But Republicans seem to be changing their message, even as they jump on Dayton for now opposing taxes that he supported before glowing economic forecasts show the state with a hefty budget surplus.
Recall that, a few weeks ago, when the state’s Office of Management and Budget issued its rosy forecast, the GOP instantly came out with this simplistic proposal: “Give it back.’’
Yes, GOP legislative leaders were calling for the $1.2 billion in surplus to be “returned to the people.’’
‘Give it back’ message morphs
Well, maybe not all of it.
To date, GOP legislators have supported more money to feed more poor kids a free lunch. (Cost: $3.5 million.)
GOP legislators supported putting more into a propane fuel fund that serves the poor. (Cost: $20 million.)
GOP legislators are leading what is known as “the 5 percent campaign,’’ which supports a pay increase for those working in state subsidized nursing homes. (Cost: $83 million.)
And Wednesday, GOP Senate leaders introduced their biggest plan, yet. They want money added to funds being used for state roads and bridges.
“Lanes, not trains,’’ they said. (Cost: $200 million.)
Those may all be very worthy expenditures. But that’s $300 million that Republicans apparently really don’t want to give back.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, laughed when asked about the “give it back’’ campaign.
“I support giving it all back except this and this and this,’’ said Davids. “That’s one thing about being in the minority. What you’re saying doesn’t always have to make sense.’’
‘Lanes, not trains’
At a mini-media conference, Republican Senate leaders unveiled the $200 million “lanes, not trains’’ idea, along with a proposal to reduce the state’s sales tax by half a point — from 6.875 percent to 6.375. That change would save those making purchases in the state $362 million.
At that news event, the GOP Senate leaders also asked for many of the same repeals of business-to-business taxes DFLers in the House and Dayton have said they want.
The “Give it back” poster, which has been displayed at previous GOP news events, was replaced. This time they had a poster that read: “Minnesota Families First.”
Meantime, Senate DFLers were hustling through a tax bill for a vote on Thursday. Senate leadership noted, though, that the newfound speed on the tax bill had nothing to do with the governor’s harsh, public words.