DFL leaders and the GOP minority kicked off the campaign for and against one-party government on the day after the 2013 legislative session ended with a hefty $2.1 billion tax hike and a contentious vote on an expansion of union influence.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton called it “progress.” Leaders of the Republican minority called it “overreach.”
“When people asked me last fall what would happen if we had a DFL Legislature and a DFL governor, I said one word: ‘Progress,’ ” Dayton said Tuesday, as the two sides began telling the story of the budget session in fly-arounds and news conferences. “And that’s what we brought about in the last five months. Progress for education in Minnesota, progress for fairer property taxes, progress for a more progressive income tax … I’m proud of the progress we made.”
The budget wipes out a projected state deficit, spends more on K-12 education and colleges, and enables federal health reform in Minnesota.
Republicans saw it differently.
“Tax, tax, tax,” Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said of the session. “They taxed everybody … When what we ought to be doing is try to create a healthy economy, an opportunity culture rather than a culture of government overreach.”
These diverging views will become part of the campaign for the House and governorship in 2014. The session that ended at 11:59 p.m. Monday will provide considerable fodder for what is now the perpetual campaign.
One-party rule the norm
One-party state government has become the rule in the Midwest. Minnesota and Illinois are all Democratic. North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio are pure GOP red. Only Iowa has divided government.
In Minnesota, the DFL governor and DFL-controlled Legislature, fully in power for the first time since 1990, raised income taxes on high earners, more than doubled the cigarette tax and enacted some new taxes on business services. They used the money to provide free, all-day kindergarten; preschool scholarships for needy families; more money for classroom education; a freeze on college tuition; funds for economic development; and property-tax relief for homeowners.
Dayton, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the budget revitalizes the state’s education system, erases a projected deficit and puts Minnesota on its firmest financial footing in a decade. In addition, they said, it puts the state in partnership with large and small employers for expansions that will create jobs and strengthen the economy, led by the Mayo Clinic-Rochester makeover.
“We have reset the clock in Minnesota,” said Bakk, by adopting a budget without “gimmicks.” Little-known but long-disliked policies such as sales taxes for local governments and a clumsy tax refund system for business capital expenditures were fixed, items Bakk said have bedeviled legislators since he arrived in 1994.
Thissen focused on the $753 million expenditure on education from early childhood through college. “This is the legislative session where we really turned the corner on Minnesota’s future,” he said.
Dayton focused on the DFL’s willingness to work with Mayo, 3M and the Mall of America and to jump-start smaller projects. “If the DFL Legislature and I hadn’t stepped in, some of these projects would not be happening in Minnesota,” he said.
In their day-after news conference, none of the leaders referred to the vote to legalize gay marriage, Monday’s vote to allow child-care providers and home-care workers to vote on unionization, or the debate over gun violence that produce no major change in weapons laws or background checks.
GOP critics, meanwhile, focused on the tax hikes and the unionization issue in their day-after comments.
“What we have now is that Minnesota will be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation,” said Thompson at a Capitol news briefing.
He accused the DFL of promising to tax the wealthy, but instead levying taxes on cigarettes and services like warehouse storage. “I’m not a believer in growing government and bigger spending, but if we’re going to do it, please help the people who need it most. Don’t pay back the people who contributed to your campaigns,” Thompson said, referring to the unionization bill.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, who took part in a GOP state tour Tuesday, said his message was one of overreach and his evidence was the tax hikes.
“That’s what happens when you have one-party control for state government,” he said in an interview. He added that gay marriage did not come up much during the tour but he discussed the unionization issue. “That’s not putting Minnesotans first — that’s putting yourself first,” Daudt said.
He said the post-session focus is on the state’s economy, not social issues. “Growing the Minnesota economy — that’s what will help Minnesota families do better and succeed,” he said.
Staff writer Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.