The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State budget: a closer look

July 2, 2011

GOP rhetoric on Dayton varies

Republican lawmakers from south-central Minnesota aren’t in lockstep on everything related to the state government shutdown.

They are united in opposition to tax increases on high-income Minnesotans, they’re mostly on the same page in how much the next state budget can be allowed to grow, and they’re in perfect harmony on the message that they made substantial efforts to compromise with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

There’s a wide chasm, however, in the rhetoric they’re using to describe Dayton, in the motivations they ascribe to him, and in their obligation to give the governor something he wants in upcoming negotiations.

For instance, there’s Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca.

“The guy should resign,” said Parry, a Republican business-owner serving his second year in the Senate. “He should resign as governor and let (Lt. Gov.) Yvonne Prettner Solon finish out his term because he’s shown to me that he doesn’t care about the state of Minnesota.”

Parry said Dayton is willing to use state workers as political pawns in budget negotiations because he simply doesn’t care about them.

“Let me tell you, the governor has no feelings,” Parry said. “If he did, he would not put 22,000 people out of work on July 1. He has no feelings. ... The shutdown doesn’t bother him at all. He gets his trust fund.”

Parry said Dayton was happy to see the shutdown occur because it will boost Democrats’ chances of unseating Republicans from the majority in the House and Senate in next year’s general election.

On the other hand, there’s Rep. Bob Gunther.

“I don’t think Gov. Dayton is really relishing this,” said Gunther, R-Fairmont, a nine-term veteran of the House.

Gunther thinks Dayton’s motives in the budget battle — raising taxes to allow more spending than the GOP proposes — are sincere. The governor’s simply wrong, in Gunther’s opinion.

“I believe that Gov. Dayton has his ideals and principles, and I can accept that his and ours aren’t always the same.”

Other area Republicans agree, at least in part, with Parry’s characterization of Dayton’s motives. Dayton and Republican legislative leaders last week could have reached a compromise on several spending bills — such as transportation —  and could have agreed to a temporary “lights-on” budget to keep the rest of the state operating at current spending levels while negotiations continued on a comprehensive two-year budget.

Dayton warned lawmakers for weeks that he would accept only a global budget deal and wouldn’t pass a budget in a piecemeal fashion. But he should have been willing to change course to avoid a shutdown, area Republicans said.

“That is deliberate and intentional, it appears, to inflict misery on the citizens of the state of Minnesota,” said Rep. Glen Gruenhagen, R-rural Glencoe, referring to Dayton’s rejection of a temporary budget.

Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Elysian, characterized the governor’s strategy as “inflict maximum pain for political gain.”

Dayton’s rejection of a piece-meal approach isn’t a political ploy — it’s common-sense negotiating, according to legislative Democrats.

If the governor agreed to pass a portion of the budgets that represent Republicans’ highest priorities, there would be little remaining revenue and little legislative incentive to reach a compromise on health and human services programs, transit funding and aid to cities that represent Dayton’s key concerns, the DFLers say.

Area Republicans also differ on whether they should budge any further to bring about a settlement and an end to the shutdown.

Parry said he and some other Senate Republicans are tempted to now support a $32 billion budget, down from the $34.2 billion figure they’ve been working off of since March. The Legislature certainly

shouldn’t go any closer to Dayton’s suggested $35.8 billion — a compromise proposed by the governor in May after originally suggesting more than $37 billion in spending.

Additional revenue is off the table, as far as Parry’s concerned.

“We have a spending problem. We don’t have a revenue problem,” Parry said. “If this governor doesn’t realize that, this shutdown could go on for a very, very long time.”

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, makes similar comments about spending. But the five-term incumbent also suggests that he would consider some additional spending if it was supported with non-tax revenue, if it caused Dayton to agree to reduce his proposed spending substantially, and if it resulted in a settlement.

“Everybody knows there has to be a compromise sooner or later,” Cornish said. “Everybody knows it.”

That inevitably means that both sides — including the governor — will have to be able to point to pieces of the compromise that represent a victory, according to Gunther, who said he will be working to find that middle ground.

The final deal won’t include tax increases, Gunther said. But he also said he probably won’t be wearing a “Not one penny more” button — something many freshmen Republican lawmakers have sported to demonstrate their commitment that the budget will not rise from their $34.2 billion cap.

“There has to be a spirit of compromise,” Gunther said. “And ‘Not one penny more’ doesn’t allow for that. ... I want to be a problem-solver, not a problem-maker.”

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State budget: a closer look