The PR battle is just getting underway

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 2, 2011 - 5:33 PM

Just like in May, liberal, conservative and labor interest groups are buying ads to sway opinions.

As soon as the state government shut down, the political spin machines opened for business.

Interest groups are launching campaigns to influence the eventual outcome of the state's epic budget battle.

Most aren't in full swing yet, but as the holiday weekend began they were gearing up for a rerun of the public lobbying frenzy that flourished after the legislative session ended in May without a budget agreement.

First out of the chute was the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a liberal group that also was the first to take to the airwaves and Internet a month ago. It spent more than $600,000 to endorse Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed tax increase as the right way to close the state's yawning budget deficit.

In radio ads that began airing Saturday on stations in Duluth, Brainerd and Bemidji, aimed for the ears of vacationing Minnesotans, the alliance places blame for the shutdown squarely on Republican majorities in the Legislature.

"This Fourth of July holiday weekend won't be much fun for a lot of Minnesotans," the ad says. "You see, the Republicans in the Legislature refused to compromise -- and instead shut down the government."

Next up, possibly as soon as next week, will be Minnesota Majority, a conservative group that also weighed in during the post-session ad wars.

The organization plans to pose the question in ads, "Is Governor Dayton a man of his word?" said Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority. It will feature a clip of then-candidate Dayton saying last year that he wouldn't shut down state government.

Organized labor, which contributed to the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, also expects to enter the fray.

The local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents the largest number of state employees, is likely to launch an ad campaign, but details haven't yet been worked out, a spokesman said.

In June, AFSCME and other public employee unions spent $300,000 on a statewide ad buy that declared their members "want to work for Minnesota."

Starting next week, AFSCME will conduct phone banks throughout the state in an attempt to pressure GOP legislators to move toward Dayton's position.

Still to be heard from are other groups that took the public-relations offensive after legislators went home, most notably the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, an umbrella group of 11 of the state's employer organizations. Last month, the group ran ads thanking Republican lawmakers for holding out against Dayton's tax plans.

For now, the coalition is holding its fire, said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. "Media campaigns tend to drive people apart rather than pull them together," he said. "We're going to spend the next few days trying to get this solved."

That said, he added, the coalition doesn't plan to "unilaterally disarm."

Also likely to weigh in as the shutdown continues are the state Republican and DFL parties. A Republican spokeswoman didn't return calls seeking comment, but DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said "significant resources will be committed to put a serious effort together."

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

FINAL OFFERS

Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders got within about $1.4 billion of agreeing on a solution to the $5 billion state budget gap Thursday. Here are the final proposals they traded:

FROM GOP TO DAYTON AT 3 P.M.:

• Increase the shift of money from K-12 schools to other state spending by another $700 million. The two sides had previously agreed to delay repaying schools the $1.4 billion already owed them.

• Increase per-student aid formula by $128 million to cover additional borrowing school districts would need to make because of payment delay.

• Issue bonds against future tobacco settlement revenue to cover the remaining budget gap.

• Add $10 million to University of Minnesota to equalize its budget reduction with MnSCU.

• Restore funding to Department of Human Rights and Trade Office.

• A Thursday special legislative session would pass a "lights on" extension of current funding for state government through July 11. All budget bills would be passed that same day.

FROM DAYTON TO GOP, 4:06 P.M.:

• Agreed to $700 million K-12 school aid payment shift.

• Rejected plan to issue tobacco bonds. Proposed instead a 3% income tax increase on 7,700 filers with incomes over $1 million, which would generate $746 million.

• Or a 1.5% income tax increase on incomes over $1 million, $303 million in corporate tax reforms, $13 million in non-resident estate taxes and $32 million in sales tax reforms.

GOP RESPONSE:

"We respectfully reject your latest budget offer."

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