Minnesota DFLers control the state Legislature and the governor’s office, but in wrapping up two years’ worth of accomplishments, leaders directed most of the ire at Republicans in the minority.
It’s a preview of a heated 2014 campaign season, with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and House Democrats on defense this fall. (Senators don’t face the ballot until 2016.) Top DFL campaigners are pushing a message that contrasts the last two years of DFL control to the two years prior, when Republicans controlled the House and the Senate.
“They wanted to talk about the consequences of one-party control — we welcome that conversation, because although Republicans might have short memories, Minnesotans do not,” House Speaker Paul Thissen said in a Tuesday news conference.
“They remember the legacy of Republican control of the Legislature in 2011 and 2012; they remember a government shutdown, ideologically driven gridlock, borrowing billions from our schools, higher property taxes,” Thissen charged. “Minnesotans don’t want to return to that Washington, D.C.-style of politics here in Minnesota.”
Republicans, who staged a state fly-around Monday, need to win seven seats to regain the majority, but claim there are 20 vulnerable districts now held by Democrats. Thissen and House Majority Leader Erin Murphy have a series of stops planned across the state this week, including Duluth, Moorhead, Austin, St. Cloud and Grand Rapids.
Bonding, budget taxes signed
The gathering’s actual occasion was Dayton signing three major bills: a second tax cut bill; an $846 million bonding bill; $200 million more in cash construction projects; and a $283 million supplemental budget bill.
In all, Democrats spent about $550 million of a $1.2 billion budget surplus on a blend of tax cut proposals this year, including repealing three business-to-business taxes they passed into law a year earlier.
Dayton — who has more time than usual to sign bills after session adjourns — said he plans to sign other major proposals into law this week, including an 11th-hour compromise on a restrictive medical marijuana proposal.
The governor acknowledged that the budget bill wasn’t perfect, but he signed it and the bonding bill without using his power to line-item veto specific provisions.
“I decided in the spirit of a good session and collaboration that it would be better if I went along with whatever was decided. I don’t agree with everything,” he said. “No one does, and that’s the way the process is supposed to work.”
Dayton said he wished the Legislature would have sent him a bill to toughen campaign finance disclosure laws, a proposal to crack down on predatory payday lenders and the so-called Toxic Free Kids Act, which would have required manufacturers to report whether they marketed products that contain potentially dangerous chemicals.
He also signaled hesitation about signing a bill that includes a ban on online lottery scratch-off games.
But comments repeatedly shifted back into the fall campaign message. Under DFL control, leaders ticked off a long list of accomplishments that will be touted on the campaign trail, including a more than a $3 hike in the state’s minimum wage over the next two years; repayment of the school shift; free all-day kindergarten across the state; tuition freezes; investments broadband; the Women’s Economic Security Act; rate increases for long-term and disability services providers; and more.
“I was asked three years ago what would happen if we had a DFL governor and a DFL Legislature, and I said one word: Progress,” Dayton said. “We were able to restore fiscal stability to the state after years of budget deficits and raiding from this fund and borrowing from the schools and all the kinds of manipulation that was going on.”
The $2.1 billion in tax increases passed last year will be one of Republicans’ biggest talking points on the campaign trail, but Democrats were already pushing back on that criticism. Thissen said they raised taxes on smokers, corporations and the wealthy, to make spending investments and pass tax cuts this year for close to 2 million middle-class Minnesotans.
“Most Minnesotans will actually see their taxes reduced as opposed to going up,” Thissen said. “I think that’s an important message to get across.”
Medical marijuana and gay marriage — some of the more polarizing issues taken up during DFL-controlled government — weren’t front-and-center in DFL leaders’ comments, but they said they wouldn’t shy away from those issues on the campaign trail.
Dayton said he could sign the medical marijuana bill as soon as this week.
“We focused on those things that are going to make everybody’s lives a little more fair,” Thissen said. “That’s a fundamental Minnesotan value that Minnesotans will appreciate.”