The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 2, 2011

State shutdown: Q&A with local legislators

By Mark Fischenich and Tim Krohn
The Free Press

The Free Press asked area lawmakers the following ques­tions Friday as the state shut­down began:

Do you have an obligation to support a budget com­promise if that requires accepting a plan you strongly disagree with or that violates campaign promises?

If not, how does this shutdown end if the other side feels the same way?

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, Dist. 24: “I’ve never signed a no-tax pledge, but I have principles that make me a good Republican and that is not agreeing to an income tax increase of any kind. But I have voted for fees, sur­charges, some taxes, so a com­promise needs to be in the works. There is not one vote in my caucus for an income tax top-tier increase.”

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, Dist. 23: “I have an obligation to engage in compromise, which means I’ll have to give up some of what I believe is in the best interests of the state.”

Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Elysian, Dist. 25: “ We represent all the peo­ple in our district, but a majority of people in our dis­trict elected us to come here and do a job. People elect us based on our stand. I was very truthful on what my stands were and I plan to look
at the facts and vote my conscience.

“ The governor and I might have an impasse. Gov. Dayton said we’re a group of freshmen who don’t understand government and don’t want to learn. What he ran into is they elected a group of businessmen. I know what it’s like to make tough decisions, how to live poor. I don’t know how to think like Gov. Dayton, because I don’t have a trust fund. But the governor doesn’t know how to think like I do.”

Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, Dist. 26: “ We did (support a budget compromise, involving a school funding shift and borrowing against future tobacco settlement payments) but the governor pulled it off the table.”

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, District 23A: “I would accept any reasonable compromise. I don’t have any one thing in my mind that has to be in the compromise, other than it has to be a mix of cuts and revenues. ... Does it have to be an increase in the income tax on the top 1 percent or 2 percent? I’m open to other alternatives.”

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, Dist. 24B: “My only obligation is to my constituents and what I feel is right or wrong. ... So I wouldn’t say I have to vote for a compromise if it involves a tax increase.”

Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, Dist. 23B: “ The likelihood is that whatever the settlement is, there will be some elements in the settlement that will be less than ideal for all parties. But it would be my responsibility to be able to speak to those and say why I am able to accept these less-than-ideal components.

... I would hope to be voting for it because the overall balance is in the best interests of Minnesota.”

Rep. Glen Gruenhagen, R-rural Glencoe, District 25A: “ That’s a hypothetical.

Based on what I’ve seen of the proposals (offered by legislative leaders), I’ve been able to support those.

... How does this end? By the people of the state of Minnesota insisting that the governor signs the bill we agree on and pass a lights-on bill (based on current spending) for the portion we don’t agree on.”

Could you support revenues from expanding the sales tax, gambling expansion, taxes on alcohol and tobacco or other tax increases?

Rosen: “Absolutely. I’ve been on bills for alcohol taxes and things. The alcohol tax hasn’t been on the table. Extra revenue from gaming, absolutely. I support a sales tax reform and expansion, but not on food or clothes. It’s hard to say what that would generate as far as revenue.”

Sheran: “I’m open to a variety of revenue streams as long as we look at it comprehensively to make sure the burden isn’t placed only on the poor and the middleclass.”

DeKruif: “I’ve said all along I’m not opposed to racino for instance.”

Parry: “I, along with 80 percent of the others in the state, believe we should have a racino. ... We do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.

The sooner the governor realizes that, the sooner we’ll have an end to this government shut- down.”

Morrow: “I’m open to talking about a number of alternatives. It depends on the size, the impact of the package that’s put together.

I don’t want one group alone to be impacted by the budget solution — that includes college students, the ill, the disabled, property taxpayers, nursing home residents.”

Cornish: “No. The only revenue I would support would be a fee or surcharge, nothing to do with a tax.

For instance, a $20 increase on the fine for a criminal (driving) ticket would be $20 million for the state (roughly the difference between Dayton and the Legislature on public safety budget spending.)”
Brynaert: “I can certainly support a sales tax. I have not supported a gambling expansion to this point. ... A racino, I’m open to that discussion. I wouldn’t absolutely deny a revenue solution that had a racino as part of that. ... I’ve voted for (tobacco and alcohol tax increases) before. That’s not my preferred solution.”

Gruenhagen: “I’d have to see the specifics. I’m not going to make a statement based on generalities.”

Could you support new revenue that comes from delaying an even higher percentage of K-12 school payments? Could you support new revenue that comes from borrowing money that would be repaid with future tobacco settlement payments?

Rosen: “ Yes I am.

Actually the governor was on board for (the K-12 shift). His proposal was 50 percent the first year and 50 the next, but we came back with a 60-40 split.”

Sheran: “ We have to, in the budget settlement, accept some short-term revenue solutions. I would hope we won’t use (tobacco) bonding to pay for ongoing expenses. As a policy, to me that’s the worst possible solution.”

DeKruif: “ The problem I have with that particular bill, is it talks about money but not the policy. We can juggle numbers around.

Policy changes direction. I want to know what the whole agreement is first.”

Parry: “If we were to do the tobacco settlement, I’d have a hard time accepting that unless there was good reform going forward. As for the schools, we’ve shifted too much. It’s time to stop that nonsense.”

Morrow: “I’d be willing to look at an overall package that moves that number (on the K-12 shift) if the other parts of the solution were fair. On the tobacco bonds, I absolutely oppose them because there are a variety of legal, economic and constitutional issues with that.”
Cornish: “ The tobacco settlement, yeah, I could accept something like that.

Gambling? I don’t have any problem with racino or a service-related fee that we don’t play games with. ...

The only way I would accept more revenue is if (Dayton) would come way down on his spending.”

Brynaert: “ That’s not really revenue, it’s borrowing from the future. That’s a bad choice.”

Gruenhagen: “Let’s put it this way. It was an offer that was put on the table to prevent a shutdown. At that point, I was willing to consider that.”

Will you collect any pay or per diem, now or later, for the period that state government is shut down?

Rosen: “No.”

Sheran: “I clearly am not going to accept the pay, and I’m not going to accept the per diem.”

DeKruif: “I will not take per diem that’s related to the shutdown. I’ve said I will tie my pay to whether (DFL Sen.) Larry Pogemiller takes his pay.

And I’m still working; the people who aren’t getting paid aren’t working.”

Parry: “Absolutely. We’re citizen-legislators. We’re paid for five months of work, $31,000. They spread it out throughout the year.

I’m working. I’m on- call. I’ll continue to accept that salary the citizens have given us.”

Morrow: “I will not be collecting pay or per diem while the state is in shutdown.

But I will still be working.”

Cornish: “None (including lodging and other reimbursements). For the last couple of years, I’ve been taking a cut in pay — the only one (in the Legislature).”

Brynaert: “Per diem is not an option. We voted that out in Rules Committee. I’m not receiving any pay during the shutdown.”

Gruenhagen: “I’m considering giving the additional pay to local district charities, depending on how long it goes. ... Who knows how long this will drag on?”

In addition, Republicans were asked:
Could you support tax increases on high-income Minnesotans if it breaks the impasse and allows for a quick end to the government shutdown?

Rosen: “Absolutely not.

It’s unnecessary. It would take us to the highest level in the nation. It puts us out of the league. If you’re holding out for that you’re putting the whole state on strike. Increases in revenue, yes, this income tax was never going to work.”

DeKruif: “No. That sounds easy to do, beat up 2 percent of the people. I haven’t voted for a tax increase on anybody.”

Parry: “No.”

Cornish: “No. I’m not against increasing revenue.

But if you tax somebody when there’s no reason to, I just can’t support it.”

Gruenhagen: “ You’re asking me a hypothetical without knowing the details. ...

It’s like marrying a mailorder bride. I don’t answer hypotheticals.”

In addition, Democrats were asked:
Could you support a budget that uses only accounting shifts and budget cuts to eliminate the shortfall if that’s what was required to break the impasse and bring a quick end to the shutdown?

Sheran: “I’m willing to accept some of what the Republicans are offering in one-time funding shifts, but I don’t think it’s responsible to have planned budget deficits for the next biennium.”

Morrow: “I would consider it, but as it stands right now, that’s a very troubling way to resolve the situation — to borrow against the future. Any solution that causes us to borrow — especially against our schools — causes me deep reservations.”

Brynaert: “ That’s accepting the majority’s current proposal. That’s not a negotiated settlement.”