By Jim Ragsdale and Jennifer Brooks
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL leaders of the Legislature pronounced one-party governance a success and said the budget deal approved late Monday night will have tangible results for middle-class Minnesotans.
"I don't know how they stayed up, much less functioned," Dayton said of House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, during the late-night windup to the Legislative session that ended on Monday.
Dayton said the decision to increase the income taxes on upper-income Minnesotans, along with other taxes such as a cigarette tax hike, allows the state to wipe out a $627 million projected deficit, to invest $753 million in education from pre-school to college, to provide $400 million in property tax relief and $40 million in economic development.
Dayton said the budget deal will show that government has a role in improving the lives of Minnesotans."We believe in a positive role for government," he said.
GOP leaders were flying around the state to give their take on the session -- which is that there was no need for a tax increase at all this year because of the improving economy. Back at the Capitol, Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, told reporters that 2013 would be remembered as the session of "tax, tax, tax."
Democrats pledged to tax the rich, Thompson said, but instead "they taxed everybody."
"What we now have is that Minnesota will be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation," Thompson said. "When what we ought to be doing is try to create a healthy economy, opportunity culture, rather than a culture of governmental overreach."
Other House and Senate Republicans criss-crossed the state Tuesday to share their post-session reactions. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, Senate Minority Leader David Han, Reps. Jennifer Loon and Tim Sanders, and Sen. Michelle Benson hopscotched around the state, hitting Rochester, Mankato, St. Cloud, Moorhead and Duluth in the space in the space of a day.
Bakk said he is proud that the new budget contains "no gimmicks" and will leave the next Legislature -- after House and gubernatorial elections in 2014 -- with a balance budget to start with. That hasn't often been the case in the last decade.
"We have re-set the clock in Minnesota," he said, and put the state on a "stable budget path."
Thissen said the agreement "turned the corner on Minnesota's future" by a "history-making" expenditure on early-childhood education scholarships. "It's going to change thousands of kids' lives," Thissen said. Funding for all-day kindergarten -- free to parents -- and freezing tuition at colleges universities are also tangible benefits of the budget, Thissen said.
"Tuition is just another tax," Thissen said, quoting Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, who heads the House Higher Education panel.
None of the leaders mentioned the historic bill to legalize gay marriage, the last-day passage of a bill to allow child-care and home-care workers to vote on unionization, or the failure to enact universal background checks on guns.
Their message was bread-and-butter budget, and Dayton's argument that one-party government spelled "progress" that middle-class Minnesotans will see.
To the complaint that one-party government "overreached," Thissen said, "For the last decade, the state has under-performed."
Dayton said if it hadn't been for the DFL majority, such projects as the Mayo-Rochester expansion would have fallen by the wayside. GOP failure to approve a larger bonding bill meant failure for "the Mayos of all these small towns," projects that could have helped communities around the state, Dayton said.
He said Republicans "don't believe there's any role for government" in such projects. "And they're wrong." He added: "They just turn their back on everybody."
Bakk and Thissen said they regretted not being able to agree on an increase in the state's minimum wage. Bakk said there are some "clinkers" in the tax bill that may be reconsidered, including a sales tax on warehouse services or farm equipment repair.
Bakk said he is proud of two changes that have been long considered.
One eliminates the sales tax on purchases paid to the state by local governments. The other is to give businesses an up-front sales tax exemption for capital equipment purchase, rather than requiring them to borrow the money for the purchase and file for a refund.
He said both problems have been lamented since he arrived at the Legislature in 1994, and now they have been fixed.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, a GOP candidate for Dayton's job in 2014, issued a statement saying the DFL leaders had the wrong focus -- "an obsession with divisive social issues, unionization of in-home childcare providers and a smorgasbord of new ways to raise taxes and fees on Minnesota taxpayers."