At Minnesota State Capitol, a serious tax debate among DFLers

  • Article by: LAWRENCE R. JACOBS
  • Updated: May 11, 2013 - 2:41 PM

It may look messy, but this is the whole political process in motion.

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The exterior of the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday, May 7, 2013

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Political drama alert: With just a week left in a legislative session firmly controlled by DFLers, lawmakers will be hard-pressed to finish on time because of a hangup in one area — taxes.

Sit up and pay attention, especially if your household earns $140,000 or more in annual taxable income, or if you would feel the pinch of higher taxes on clothing, tobacco or alcohol.

Picture a giant freeway pileup at rush hour. As lawmakers rush to pass bills to fund government by the scheduled May 20 adjournment, they eventually will find themselves stalled and drumming their fingers, waiting for Gov. Mark Dayton and key legislators to iron out their differences on taxes.

Negotiations have started, but each side will hold out in hopes of securing an advantage from the ticking clock and building pressure.

Clear out some time to read a lengthening series of profiles on the big personalities. You already know the governor and may have started to learn more about House Speaker Paul Thissen and Senator Majority Leader Tom Bakk. Now you’d better bone up on “The Anns” — House taxes committee chair Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington and Senate tax reform leader Ann Rest of New Hope.

Both are smart veterans with definite, well-thought-out views. No one is giving in. Plan on a lot of talking and, eventually, a tussle that includes the big dogs in the DFL leadership.

Soon the press will be setting up for “the countdown.” Feverish reporting will portray fretful leaders shuttling back and forth between closed-door conclaves. Journalists will camp out, awaiting word of a last-minute deal, then everyone will sprint to clear the debris, speed massive legislation on its way and marvel at the dramatic conclusion.

This is all conjecture, of course. But it’s the probable future I’m piecing together from visiting with lawmakers at the Capitol.

Here’s another hunch. As May 20 approaches, a popular theme will be earnest — and not-so-earnest — questions about why DFLers are at each other’s throats.

Does state policymaking work no more smoothly under one-party DFL rule than it did in the government-shutdown years when Republicans shared power?

Let’s dig in on this and try to make sense of what may seem nonsensical from afar.

First, don’t be blinded by the Klieg lights being shined on the DFL’s disagreements. One-party rule is finding spacious stretches of common ground.

The DFLers will pass a tax bill that will bring in well more than $1 billion in new revenue over the next two years. It will be an increase large enough to, you might say, tax the adjective supply of editorial writers — and of Republicans launching fire-tipped press releases.

Whatever else it does, DFL government will enact Dayton’s signature fourth-tier income tax increase on the highest-earning 2 percent of Minnesotans.

What’s more, DFL government agrees that much of the new revenue should be plowed into boosting spending on education — from early childhood education and all-day kindergarten through higher education.

Taking in the raft of new DFL laws, a well-placed lawmaker compared it to the so-called Minnesota Miracle from the 1970s — “It’s the new ‘Good Ol Days.’ ”

‘Fairness’ vs. ‘stability’

OK, you may be wondering, then why all the delay and debate? Two words — politics and philosophy.

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