The Legislature took a testy turn on Thursday as Republican legislators packaged up DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's yet-to-be-finalized tax increase proposal and then resoundingly rejected it.
Dayton dismissed the move as "juvenile political theater" and, at a brief news conference outside his office, sternly criticized Republicans who control the Legislature for ripping his budget without offering an outline of their own. "That's the hard part," Dayton said. "That's the part they are avoiding. That's the part they don't want to face up to. I feel like back when I was teaching ninth-graders. Recess is over, time to stop playing games."
The drama marked a fresh display of the growing tension and deep divide between the governor and his GOP rivals on the budget even as they display an ability to work together on other issues.
Dayton has pledged to beat down the state's $5 billion project deficit through a mix of tax hikes on high earners, spending cuts and payment shifts. Republican leaders insist they can balance the budget solely through cuts.
Dayton introduced his budget two weeks ago, and Republicans are expected to offer their financial budget targets next week.
Republicans have criticized DFL legislators for not offering a bill that encompasses the governor's budget, which the GOP sees as a sign that DFLers don't support Dayton's plan. So on Thursday they wrestled the governor's tax plan into the form of an amendment, tacked it onto an arcane bill to revise the tax code and called for a vote.
Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, a steady critic of Dayton's budget proposal, sponsored the amendment to raise $2.4 billion through income and property tax hikes on high earners. "It's time to get moving on the budget," the Edina Republican said, surprising some DFL lawmakers who were not aware the proposal was coming. "It's important we have a little discussion about it on the Senate floor."
Republicans blast plan
Republicans then took turns bashing the plan.
Senate Taxes Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman called the bill "devastating" and "exactly wrong for Minnesota."
"Minnesotans know how to spend their dollars better than government every day of the week," said Ortman, R-Chanhassen. "You can't tax your way out of a recession."
Assistant Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, warned, "We risk being last in line for economic recovery."
As Republicans spoke, some DFLers grimaced.
After Ortman described Minnesota's tax system as progressive, Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, walked through the chamber passing out a chart that showed the state's tax system is actually regressive.
"She's wrong," he said coolly. "She's wrong."
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, told members that he'd be glad to sponsor the governor's budget but that state officials are still retooling the outline based on the newest financial information. Dayton's plan is expected be finalized next week.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, called the debate trumped-up political theater by the new Republican majority. He dismissed it as "a chance to puff up your chest. Maybe grandma's watching at home."
Dayton had gotten a jump on the political gamesmanship by sending a letter to Bakk and House leaders urging DFLers to vote against an amendment that "masquerades as my bill." Dayton also criticized Republicans for using the amendment to pollute a bill that would make Minnesota tax codes conform with federal rules, which would lower taxes for many Minnesotans.
"Vote against this amendment, to reject this charade," the governor said in the letter.
The Senate rejected the measure 62-1. Only DFL Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm voted in favor of the proposal.
The debate in the House went much the same way. The House squashed the measure unanimously.
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