Minnesota voters have already pointed the way

  • Article by: MIKE SWEENEY , Star Tribune Chairman
  • Updated: May 19, 2011 - 9:51 PM

It's compromise they want at the Capitol, and compromise they shall get.

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Governor Mark Dayton and GOP leadership spoke to the press after emerging from the GOP caucus. L to R Governor Dayton, house speaker Kurt Zellers, majority leader Amy Koch.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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The title of the 2007 movie "There Will Be Blood" was more of a promise, or a threat, than a mere description of the Oscar-winning film. And blood there was, quite a bit of it. A promise kept, a threat delivered upon.

In that spirit, let's title the tragicomic budget negotiations unfolding in St. Paul: "There Will Be Compromise."

As this story unfolds, it is inevitable that campaign promises will be broken and heartfelt ideologies abandoned. It is inevitable because that's what the voters want. In the long run, the voters always get what they want, even when they're wrong (which they're not).

In their infinite wisdom, Minnesota voters elected a politically divided state government. They elected, for the first time in just short of forever, a Republican-dominated Legislature, because in these times of fewer resources government must be forced to be efficient and to make fewer promises. But they elected DFLer Mark Dayton as governor because they wanted someone to protect our safety net and to insist on "fairness" in our tax structure.

Of course, what passes for fairness today almost invariably means someone else has to pay more.

The stridency of the debate might make compromise seem impossible. But that would be a misread. The Legislature was not elected to shred the safety net, nor was the governor hired to soak the rich. If our public servants listen carefully to the message, they will find that both sides can win.

Government will be made more efficient. We will stop making loose promises to ourselves. We will invest appropriately in our safety net and rebuild the education systems that we were justifiably proud of. There will be reform and, ultimately, there will be more revenue, because there has to be.

Smart people can disagree about where that revenue should come from, but without it we cannot do what we should as a society. The amount of incremental revenue needed is relatively small in the whole scheme of things, say $1 billion to $2 billion. But it's investment at the margin that makes the difference. The pounding of local government aid and of higher education has gone far enough. It is beyond efficiency and beyond forcing reform. It is now at the point of threatening the mission. And the voters know it. Significant majorities say they want a mix of cuts and revenue to solve our budget crisis.

But there are still those who reject compromise. Frequently those forces are the True Believers, those for whom government is the oppressor, who want to starve the beast. But they are also those for whom capitalism and its uneven rewards are anathema, who believe the system is rigged for the rich. Both groups are on the fringes of our society and, while they seem to dominate the airwaves, they do not dominate on Election Day.

Meanwhile, there are those who despise compromise for more cynical reasons. For them, compromise threatens their power. Think Tom Dooher, head of the teachers union, or Tony Sutton, head of the Republican Party. Each is mocked by those on the other side -- but too often feared by those on their own team. It is ham-handed machine politics that punishes allies who might dare to entertain an independent thought. At the moment it is Sutton's loud demand for no compromise that might be enforced with the threat of backing primary challengers against wayward incumbents.

But here's the thing: If the voters want compromise, in the long run they will get it. Republican legislators will have to decide whom they work for, the people or the party. If they choose badly, today's GOP legislative majorities will disappear in 2012, when all legislators are up for election. The likely alternative to compromise, in short, is a DFL-controlled Legislature working with DFL Gov. Dayton.

Then there would be blood.

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