Senate Minority Leader: Minnesota Republicans must compromise

  • Article by: TOM BAKK
  • Updated: July 13, 2011 - 9:34 PM

Tom Bakk, a Democrat, is the Minnesota Senate Minority Leader

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How can we ever hope to end our state's costly and painful government shutdown if only one side of the negotiating table is willing to compromise?

That was the question I was left asking myself after reading the recent commentary pieces from Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Majority Leader Matt Dean.

In those pieces, Sen. Koch and Rep. Dean repeated a familiar Republican mantra: the only way we can end this government shutdown is if Gov. Mark Dayton submits to the all-cuts budget approach favored by Republicans.

In other words, Republican leaders are not interested in negotiating a compromise with Dayton; they're only interested in negotiating his surrender. I don't think this type of "my way or the highway" approach to budgeting is what voters had in mind when they sent a divided government to St. Paul.

For the past six months, Minnesotans have watched Dayton do everything in his power to close the substantial gap between his proposals and those set forth by GOP leaders.

He's repeatedly compromised on his original proposal to increase income taxes on the richest 5 percent of Minnesotans. In its current form, the governor's tax plan would only impact the richest 7,700 Minnesotans -- the 0.3 percent of people in the state who earn more than $1 million a year after deductions.

Just last week, he even offered to take any income tax increase of the table, offering instead a $1-a-pack tax -- er, fee -- increase on cigarettes to help spur negotiations and end the shutdown.

Republicans refused every offer. Worse, they haven't even bothered to put another offer on the table since the shutdown began two weeks ago.

As it stands, Dayton and Republican leaders remain roughly $1.4 billion apart in their efforts to close the state's $5 billion budget deficit. Both sides have agreed to delay repayment of $1.4 billion borrowed from schools last budget cycle, and both have agreed to more than $2 billion in deep and painful spending cuts to close this historic deficit.

In total, both sides have agreed to solve 70 percent of the largest budget deficit in state history by reducing spending. The current shutdown is now about how to address the remaining 30 percent, a decision that will have a very real impact on the lives of thousands of Minnesotans.

Republicans favor an additional $1.4 billion in cuts aimed directly at the things Minnesotans value most. That includes cuts to special-education funding, slashing services for the elderly and disabled, taking health care away from 140,000 Minnesotans and eliminating treatment for vulnerable citizens with severe mental health issues.

It includes deep cuts to the state's colleges and universities, and gutting transit service in both the metro area and greater Minnesota.

It also includes direct attacks on the pocketbooks on middle-class families. The Republicans' budget would increase property taxes on homeowners, renters and businesses by more than $1 billion over the next three years.

And, yes, the remaining gap between the governor and Republican leaders also includes controversial social issues that have no bearing on the state's budget.

Among other items, Republicans are demanding cuts to public school funding to pay for private school vouchers, taking away collective bargaining rights from state workers, and even criminalizing life-saving stem cell research at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic.

The governor and Democrats believe we need to cut spending and make major reforms as we cope with the largest budget deficit in state history. But we firmly believe the Republican's all-cuts budget goes too far and does too much damage to our state.

We need to end this shutdown, and end it soon. That cannot happen unless Republicans are willing to negotiate in good faith and discuss a real compromise.

If taxing the richest Minnesotans or raising the price of cigarettes is off the table, it's time for Republicans to tell us what is on the table.

Republicans' refusal to compromise or even make new budget offers is simply unacceptable, and is prolonging a government shutdown that is threatening our state's economy and hurting Minnesota families.

Tom Bakk is, DFL-Cook, is the state Senate minority leader.

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