Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey is the star of a new statewide TV ad, funded by the party, that demands Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers return the entire $1.9 billion budget surplus to taxpayers.
"What would you do with an extra $350?" Downey says in the ad that debuted Tuesday. That's the amount each Minnesotan would get if the surplus were to be divided equally, Downey said.
But that message doesn't square with numerous spending proposals from leading Republican lawmakers in the House majority, who have talked about using part of the surplus to pay for road and bridge repair, to increase state spending on long-term care for senior citizens, to boost aid to schools and local governments and other proposals.
"I don't think anybody's talking about giving it back in the sense of giving people checks," said Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, the House budget chief. He said Republicans would propose significant tax relief, but that it would be more targeted.
The House GOP also still intends to spend at least $200 million from the surplus on roads and bridges, Knoblach said; he said other spending proposals also remain under consideration by GOP leadership.
In addition to pressuring GOP House members who might not want to return the entire surplus, the party's spending on the campaign -- which Downey described as being in the six figures -- comes even amid new signs that its longterm debt problems are not yet resolved. Last week, several national Republican media firms publicly aired anger towards Downey over nearly $300,000 in unpaid bills owed them by the party for work prior to last November's election.
"I'm puzzled that they're spending on that rather than focusing on getting us out of the red," said Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, a former vice chairwoman of the party. At the end of January, the party still had $1.47 million in total unpaid debts.
The full ad can be seen here.