By Jennifer Brooks, Jim Ragsdale and Baird Helgeson
Exhausted Minnesota legislators poured out of the Capitol early Tuesday, with starkly different views on the successes and failures of the completed legislative session.
Democrats said the session is a bold step in a new direction that will restore fiscal order to the state budget and break the cycle of back-to-back deficits.
They also praised their job-creation efforts, like helping Mayo Clinic expand and the State Capitol renovation.
“I think it’s a great budget for Minnesota,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “We’re doing what we told Minnesota voters that we would do last November and I’m really pleased with that.”
It may have been a session where the Legislature made history by legalizing gay marriage, but Thissen insisted that it was the DFL’s education policies that people would remember.
“We kind of turned the corner from some of the ideological debates to being a Legislature and a governor that can work together to move the state forward,” Thissen said.
Republicans said the $2.1 billion in tax increases will be a drag on the economy.
“First of all, we don’t need any more money, and this has been a session of over-taxing, over-spending and over-reaching by the one-party government of the DFL.” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “We’ve seen a lot of spending, that has simply been status quo, putting more money into existing programs, paying off political allies, very very little reform.”
“We came to a fork in the road where we could grow Minnesota’s economy without raising taxes and make Minnesota more competitive and Democrats took the wrong fork,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
Daudt predicted that Democrats would lose points with voters even for the policies they didn’t pass, like the proposed tax hike on beer that eventually failed.
“Those things will probably come back to haunt them,” he said.
Other Democrats said voters will remember a different message.
“I remember right after the election, some people asked Gov. Dayton what will an all-Democratic government mean for Minnesotans,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “And he used one word in his answer. He said ‘Progress,’ and I think that we put a budget together that I’m very proud of.”
Bakk was particularly proud of two accomplishments in the tax bill – eliminating the sales tax paid by local governments to the state, and fully removing sales tax from capital equipment purchases. He also was proud of using the new tax revenue to provide free all-day kindergarten statewide.
“To people who think we’ve overreached, I guess the voters are going to determine that in 2014, but I think we’ve got an awful strong message to sell about Minnesota being a better place for our kids and grandkids as a result of the work of this 88th Legislature,” Bakk said.
But some Democrats remained frustrated at things left unfinished.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley said leaders in his own party ditched a proposed minimum wage increase to accomplish other priorities.
“Senator Bakk agreed with the Senate Republicans not to pass a minimum wage bill and not to pass the bullying bill, in order for them to agree to support a bonding bill to restore the State Capitol building,” said Winkler, who heard the same story of the deal from House Republicans. “We’ll certainly come back in 2014, and maybe the Capitol restoration will be so nice that minimum wage workers can scrape together a few pennies and come see it someday.”
Thissen said he expects the minimum wage hike to be a top initiative next year.
“I think that would help a lot of Minnesotans all across the state,” he said.