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Why can’t Minnesota’s legislative leaders compromise? Because their disagreement isn’t (only) about money. It’s about a philosophy of governing

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Gov. Tim Walz: "We set our budgeting targets on what Minnesotans needed."

Is it really any wonder that they’re so far apart?

On Monday, during a break in closed-door budget talks that were on the cusp of failing to meet a self-imposed deadline, Gov. Tim Walz and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka spoke separately to the media. But their assessment of the differences between their budgeting approaches were basically the same.

The DFL starts with how much money is needed to solve challenges facing the state, both men explained, while the GOP starts with how much money the state will collect. “We set our budgeting targets on what Minnesotans needed,” Walz said, “What would it take to make sure that the special ed cross subsidy doesn’t drain off from our schools, what would it take to keep the 4,000 pre-k slots?”

In contrast, the GOP was “going about it the wrong way,” Walz argued: “I know they set their numbers by just coming up with zero revenue, and then everything went from there.” 

Gazelka couldn’t have agreed more with that assessment. “They basically build a budget from the bottom up,” the Nisswa Republican said of Walz and House DFL budget writers. “In other words, whatever each area wants for spending that they think is important, they build into the budget. And then after that they raise whatever taxes are necessary to get there.

“We build a budget with the resources that we have. … We take that number and we work down and prioritize about what is most important for Minnesota and what is it we don’t need to do or can do differently. They’re two different directions. I wish we could be on the same page with that but we’re not.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka: "Serious negotiations can continue when St. Paul Democrats realize we can’t keep taxing people out of independence and prosperity by promising them a public program to help them instead."
All of which means 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature doesn’t just reflect a difference on issues. It reflects a difference on a philosophy of governing. The DFL thinks the state hasn’t spent enough on schools, on health care, on the social safety net and on transportation. The GOP thinks the state taxes too much, and that it needs to not add to that burden.

And while compromise and meeting-in-the-middle can sometimes resolve policy differences, it’s rarely helpful in resolving philosophical ones. 

Frustration all around

The self-imposed deadline Walz, Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman had come up with months ago was a tactic to force the Legislature to finish on time. Missing it doesn’t mean they won’t be able to complete a two-year budget for the constitutionally mandated last day of session, May 20. But it is hard for the 10 budget conference committees to do much serious negotiating if the chairs don’t know how much money they will be allowed to spend.

Now, with the Monday deadline blown, and after a relatively brief meeting Tuesday afternoon, the governor and the two leaders aren’t set to meet again until Sunday night — after the Saturday fishing opener and after Mother’s Day brunches.

All that was left, then, was to cast blame.

Walz and House Speaker Melissa Hortman expressed frustration that after they offered to reduce their proposed spending (and, in turn, their proposed revenue increases), the Senate GOP did not counter with an offer to increase their proposed spending. Going into these talks, the House DFL proposed spending $49.8 billion, Walz $49.35 billion and Senate Republicans $47.7 billion. All the proposals exceed the current two-year budget of $45.5 billion.

Walz and Hortman agreed to reduce their proposed spending total to around $49.15 billion, a $200 million reduction from the governor’s plan and $640 million from the House plan. Which areas of the budget would have less spending — and which of the proposed tax hikes would be lessened — was to be determined later.

Gazelka’s counter-offer was to search for an additional $200 million in the health and human services budget and devote that money to the education budget. He termed them savings from reductions in waste; DFLers called them additional service cuts to an HHS budget they already considered “draconian.”

Gazelka said he wants the DFL to reduce their tax plans. “I am disappointed Gov. Walz and Speaker Hortman have so far refused to drop even one cent of their massive four-year $12 billion tax increase agenda,” he said “They also refuse to offer any specific spending reductions to a budget that spends more than $50 billion a year when you consider all funds.

“Serious negotiations can continue when St. Paul Democrats realize we can’t keep taxing people out of independence and prosperity by promising them a public program to help them instead.”

House Speaker Melissa Hortman
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
House Speaker Melissa Hortman: "We put a substantial move on the table and the Senate put nothing on the table."
When she was told that Gazelka had said she and Walz hadn’t offered to reduce their tax plan, Hortman wasn’t pleased. In fact, she called the suggestion “bullshit.”

“They are not that bad at math: $200 million is not zero, $664 million is not zero,” she said, “We put a substantial move on the table and the Senate put nothing on the table.”

From Gazelka’s perspective, coming up at all on revenue would require accepting the idea of the DFL tax increases. And no new taxes is the centerpiece of the GOP budget agenda this session. “I’m saying let’s make sure we take care of the fundamentals,” he said Tuesday, repeating that the Senate budget represents a 5 percent increase over current spending levels. “Don’t miss the things that we must get done, that all of Minnesota think we need to get done. Let’s make sure we get those in this short period of time that we have left and then what other things we can agree to we’ll do as well.

What now?

All this doesn’t even touch upon transportation funding. Walz has proposed raising the gasoline tax by five-cents a year for four years, while Gazelka has promised to reject any gas tax increase.

So what now? The session ends May 20 whether there is a budget or not. If not, Walz can call a special session, but his predecessors have insisted on deals being struck before they agree to holding a session.

And though Walz and the top legislative leaders have been talking about comity and civility and optimism, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler voiced some pessimism Tuesday based on the parties’ philosophical differences. “The Republican leadership has reiterated their desire for a zero-budget change and a lights-on proposal for funding state government,” the Golden Valley lawmaker said. “We know Minnesota needs a lot more than the status quo.

“If they can’t compromise at all, it is not clear how we end this session,” Winkler said.

Walz’s budget chief Myron Frans had been encouraged earlier in the session when the governor, Hortman and Gazelka agreed to deadlines that would see budget bills drafted and budget targets agreed to with two weeks to go in session. That, he said at the time, was unprecedented. With the Monday deadline missed, what does he think now?

“We have bills, we have a spreadsheet,” Frans said. “In years past we were in the final weekend with no bill language and no spreadsheets, so this is a good situation.”

And he agreed that people tend not to react to artificial deadlines the same way they react to real ones. “But next week we will be coming up on a real deadline,” he said.

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/08/2019 - 11:03 am.

    Norman Ornstein, a well respected political scientist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute has written a lot about this very dilemma. Basically he writes Republicans have abandoned every pretense of government. They are an anti-parliamentary group with no intentions of governing. It’s hard to negotiate with anarchists like this who only want to provide socialist programs for the rich, and couldn’t care less about working people.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 05/09/2019 - 07:29 am.

      I met Norm once. He’s the only Conservative I’ve ever had any respect for and he’s exactly right. How can you compromise with a party that wants to burn the whole house down when you want to save it? Where is the middle ground there?

  2. Submitted by Rod Loper on 05/08/2019 - 11:57 am.

    The republicans want a lights-on government so they can have an ineffective government to run against.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/08/2019 - 12:21 pm.

    For Republicans, budgets are about money. For Democrats, budgets are about what money pays for.

  4. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 05/08/2019 - 03:41 pm.

    Apparently, elections only have consequences when Republicans win them.

  5. Submitted by Jim Spensley on 05/08/2019 - 04:00 pm.

    “Philosopy” is not an appropriate label for the partisan differences unless you were refering to the IR campaign state-of-mind –solicit campaign dollars and PAC support from businesses and special interests and reward them if they respond.

  6. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 05/08/2019 - 04:01 pm.

    The StarTribune had a great editorial about this stating that Walz ran his campaign on these very issues that repubs are opposing and Walz won overwhelmingly.
    What I believe is that when Obama was elected after that horrible economic travesty that bush and the repubs left behind, they chose to obstruct rather than work together to fix THEIR mess…and have carried that same “my road or the highway” ever since.
    To me, I don’t believe they care…even a smidgen…about the needs of the people…just their wealthy benefactors.

  7. Submitted by Danielle Wolter on 05/08/2019 - 05:04 pm.

    The obstructionist posture taken by the GOP is based on the premise that they, and only they, are the ruling class and that any flexing of political power by democrats is akin to a subversion of their god-given right to rule.

  8. Submitted by Barry Peterson on 05/08/2019 - 08:19 pm.

    One of the concerns I have about legislators and media conduct is a preoccupation with stating budget data in terms of millions and billions of dollars. Another concern that I have is with various parties’ misunderstanding of how not placing currency in the economy will effect our economy.

    With regard to my first concern, I believe it will be more practical to state the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual expense to private parties within the context of their tax tier, and how this spending into taxable income or purchases will positively or adversely affect communities.

    With regard to my second concern, I will note a theory the velocity of money, often discussed by attorney and economist James “Jim” Rickards. Rickards, in his blogs, has spoken of his expertise as an economist, attorney, and international affairs specialist, having worked with the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for several years as an economist and attorney. For a little more about Dr. Rickards, please contact Agora Financial in Baltimore, MD, and begin with a few paragraphs about him, here:

    Dr. Rickards tells us the the more currency in action with an economy does much to improve the ongoing wealth the the economy and people who gain from improved economic activity.

    As this relates to both Republican and other political ideologies, it appears as thought the more money we take from savings in the short run, the more economic activity and wealth will be available to the various economic actors within and economic community.

    With regard to Democratic Party policies on taxation and bringing money into our economic community, and other political parties around the world with similar ideologies, I recall basic college period reading on Otto von Bismarck and his passions as the Nineteenth Century, C.E. first chancellor of the German Empire, where, among many achievements, he implemented social programs to improve worker loyalty to the state. Please see: for a basic, concise and exhaustive summary of his education through old age.

    Based on my understanding of economies and cultural institutions and organization, the conservative Otto von Bismark played politics well. While being a member of the Prussian elite, he found a way to bring about a stable, healthy and well-educated populous within the German Empire. Sadly, the sense of orthodoxy in both of our state and nation’s principle political parties has also brought about some blindness to the realities of long-term evaluation of policies and sentiments within our state and nation with regard to our flexibility and use of our personal finances and business and governmental institutions.

    Among Republicans, it appears as though our elected neighbors from this party are at a loss for understanding the real needs of both middle and economically disadvantaged citizens (regardless of the wealth in culture and education, skills and as assets to our state and nation).

    Among Democrats, it appears as though many among this party, at national levels of influence, see multi-millionaires and billionaires as evil, money-grubbing and hateful toward members of our communities who do not have great financial, real, and other assets and spheres of influence.

    As one who has circulated among those with more, and those with less, within this state and nation, and while studying and touring abroad, I find these caricatures sloppy and not well based in reality.

    While I am interested in seeing that our state and national budgets are not overwhelmed with waste, fraud, and abuse; I am also not happy with the anal retentive desire to keep our taxes at a strict minimum, and to not tax all members of our society in a manner commensurate with both business and human needs, and with their availability, and with their inability to be taxed beyond what they can offer their families in a way that does not lead to instability and stagnation in their social, educational, and vocational lives.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/08/2019 - 08:44 pm.

    The question as noted by DL is: Republicans how much social engineering do we need on the tax code (poor folks covering the tax revenue to keep rich guys getting richer and poor guys getting poorer) before you are satisfied? We understand republican social engineering, the well to do continuously prey on the not so well to do, they are “entitled” top that never ending stream of wealth! Please prove me wrong.

  10. Submitted by Eric House on 05/09/2019 - 08:54 am.

    Frustrating that the headline promotes ‘both-siderism’ when the meat of the article talks about efforts by the Democratic leadership to move off their initial proposals, but the Republican senate leadership refusing to negotiate off their proposals.

    Regardless of who is philosophically ‘right’ about spending and tax levels- there is only one side that won’t compromise, and the headline should reflect that as well as the body of the article.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/09/2019 - 09:42 am.

    There’s nothing “philosophical” about Republican budgets or governance. Magic isn’t a philosophy, it’s a delusion. The republican belief that they can dictate cost by restricting revenue is simply facile. Their notion of “limited” government is an incoherent model that doesn’t function anywhere in the world. Basically the idea is that if you refuse to pay for government, magic will make up the difference. This delusion has a documented history of producing nothing but budget crises, economic crises, failing infrastructure and and it’s associated catastrophes, and private sector catastrophes ranging from financial collapse to lead poisoning.

    I had hoped that Republicans had lost their enthusiasm for shutting government down but it looks like they still have not freed themselves from stupidity and magic. The only way we can restore reason and fiscal responsibility to government budgets is to simply defeat Republicans and pass necessary legislation with Democratic majorities.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/11/2019 - 11:45 am.

      All the countries that actually have “limited government” are the kinds of Third World countries with low literacy, high crime, and low life expectancies, where most people live in shacks without electricity or running water and the few live in gated compounds with all the comforts money can buy.

      In contrast, the countries with the highest standards of living are those whose governments have made the right kinds of interventions.

      I once read an article that contrasted South Korea and the Philippines. In 1965, both were extremely poor countries and places where Peace Corps workers were sent. (I had a fellow student who had been a Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, as much as that is hard to believe now.)

      South Korea’s government was a dictatorship, but its leaders were Confucians, so their philosophy told them that a ruler’s job is increase the welfare and prosperity of his people. As such, they invested heavily in education and health care and in upgrading the infrastructure that the Japanese colonizers had left behind, and although they encouraged foreign manufacturers to come in and build sweatshops, they did so on the condition that those foreigners train Koreans for technical and management positions and transfer their technology when they left.

      Filipino leaders like Ferdinand Marcos had a more Trumpian approach to government. “What’s in it for me and my cronies?” Heirs of nearly 400 years of Spanish rule, they acted more like Latin American strongmen than anything else.

      Even just twenty-three years later, the difference was obvious. Seoul was showing off its progress by hosting the Olympics, and Manila was still full of slums.

      When I first saw South Korea for myself in 2014, I was amazed. (I’m still puzzling over why Seoul still doesn’t have clean drinking water, even though Japan did in the 1970s, and Korea today is more advanced than Japan was then. Maybe the bottled water companies are doing some heavy duty bribery?) The traditional culture is still evident and even celebrated, but some of the cityscapes in places like Busan look downright futuristic.

      Would South Korea have been better off with a less activist government, like the Philippines?

      You don’t have to go to Scandinavia to see the effects of wise government investment.

  12. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 05/09/2019 - 11:33 am.

    Every comment that slams the Republicans here have not used ANY numbers, only the usual identity name blame.
    10 years ago, the state spending was $33.4 billion. This current 2 year is now $45.5 billion. That is an increase of over 36%. The rate of inflation over the last 10 years has been 19.5%. We’re running nearly double inflation on state spending.
    If you keep inflation into the next biennium, the spending should be $47.0 billion, which is almost a billion less than what the Republicans are proposing. But no, the Dems want more!! The Republican increase of 4.8% is apparently not good enough. Walz wants $8.5% and the House Dems want 9.5% increase. And still, Hortmann throws a tantrum when the Republican Senate increased some but still would be a 5.3% increase.
    The question is how much do we need to spend??? A few years ago, Dayton and the Dems had a record increase in taxes that are still on the books. The 2% health fee that is sunsetting was already paid for by the federal government but the Dems want to keep the tax to put into the general fund, where it has been going already. And the gax tax increase is a folly because most of it proposed will go to the general fund, not roads and bridges. The Dems are not telling anyone all of this.
    Let’s also not forget we have a huge surplus and over $2 billlion in the bank.
    So keep saying Republicans are not leading. They are forcing choices to be made. Structuring around priorities is what people are elected to do. Not lead by taking more and more out of everyone’s pocketbook.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/09/2019 - 12:27 pm.

      Ten years ago we had a nearly unprecedented recession. Your figures do not constitute an argument. I’d love it Republicans had legimate ideas, and didn’t pedal Reaganesque false solutions.

    • Submitted by Eric House on 05/09/2019 - 01:07 pm.

      This comment seems to prove the point of the article. Republicans, and their defenders, look at the number and say “this is too much”. but never seem to want to talk about where that money is going- not only roads, but transit, environmental protection, parks, healthcare, schools, replacing lost state aid to cities, and so on, and so forth…

      Strangely, I rarely hear specifics about what exactly is causing this ‘too much’- a little around transit, usually from representatives that don’t even want to allow the metro area to spend our own money on transit, and of course the old reliable “waste”.

      What are the republican priorities- besides “no new taxes” and “this is too much money”?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/09/2019 - 01:32 pm.

      You are assuming that the state budget from 10 years ago was adequate, or the correct amount.

      Perhaps it was too low?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/09/2019 - 05:37 pm.

        Come on RH, you know the GOP tax policy:

        There’s a surplus? Cut taxes!

        There’s a deficit? Cut taxes!

        When the only tool you have is a hammer…

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/09/2019 - 05:49 pm.

      Is it the case that there are more seniors in Minnesota today than there were in 2010? Seniors earn less, and use more government services. All other things held constant, state spending will rise when the population of seniors (and children) rises.

      Now if only we could find out of there is a rising tide of Minnesotans turning 65…

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/09/2019 - 07:04 pm.

      Of course what’s funny about Bob’s entire pseudo analysis is that 10 years ago we had a Pawlenty $1.2 billion deficit, and a $3 billion shortfall. And the spending cuts didn’t balance the budget or erase the deficits.

    • Submitted by Jon Person on 05/15/2019 - 01:45 pm.

      Everyone bashing the Republicans seem to think we just couldn’t live without all the government programs. If cut some things out if the budget life would go on. I would rather choose to do what I want with my money and not have to donate it to the government to spend for me.

  13. Submitted by Joe Musich on 05/09/2019 - 07:59 pm.

    Gazelka’s intransigence is the problem. If you believe government is bad you do not fund it..This group interpretation of the “common good” is very different then the intent. But hey look at them wield their minority power.

  14. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/10/2019 - 10:30 am.

    What I find weird about Republicans is their apparent belief that if the government doesn’t pay for something, it doesn’t have to be paid for, or won’t be paid for in some other way.

    Take health care. Everyone thinks that health care costs are too high. I think that myself. But Republicans b elieve that the way to reduce health care cost is to provide less health care. But it just doesn’t work that way. People are going to get the health care they need, and the often excessively maligned health care providers are going to find a way, however inefficient and expensive that way might be, to supply it. And they will find a way to get paid for it. We just don’t have a very clear idea as to whom that bill will land, but the people who finance the Republican Party have the sophistication to make sure the the bill doesn’t land on them.

  15. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/12/2019 - 07:11 am.

    Republicans do not govern with the money they have in terms of government revenues. Their first priority is reducing government revenues by corporate and individual tax cuts for the successful and tax breaks for companies doing normal business expansion.

    The perfect example is sunsetting of the provider tax, that set in motion years ago. Almost a billion in revenue that helps low income people pay for healthcare. Do they have another funding source? No. Are they quite willing to let hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans to lose their healthcare? Yes.

    They are not confined by current revenues, but intentionally give away revenue, often to those with no NEED for it, in order to go about doing less to help those Minnesotans who need it, including the children of the poor for which every years life is stacked more against them.

    It is unfortunate that journalists accept their description of how they think and act, as their addiction to tax breaks and business tax incentives leaves less to pay for valuable service long the government responsibility, or handling sharp inflation of housing, healthcare and higher education. Any slip in key indicators of quality of life in Minnesota can be attributed to their penny wise pound foolish governing philosophy..

  16. Submitted by Robert Ahles on 05/20/2019 - 03:42 pm.

    The Republican stance on “no new taxes” is just a joke. Trump’s tariffs are really taxes on all Americans and do nothing to lower health care costs or improve our roads and bridges. Some experts believe that these tariffs on just China alone will cost Americans close to $125 billion. I’m shocked that no one from the GOP is doing anything to stop it.

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