Dayton, legislators pledge spending restraint

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 10, 2012 - 11:24 PM

As leaders talked about the upcoming session, they found some common ground, and plenty of room for disagreements.

Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders are trying to lower expectations as the state heads into its first session of undivided Democratic control in more than two decades.

The budget and taxes will top the DFL's legislative agenda. Taxes may go up -- at least on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans -- but there could be further cuts in the budget as well, disappointing the interest groups that had hoped to see slashed budgets and programs restored under a Democratic majority. The upcoming budget, Dayton warned, will not be "extravagant."

"Any tiptoe we take, we'll be accused of overreaching," Dayton told reporters during a Monday morning roundtable with incoming House Speaker Paul Thissen, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and Senate Minority Leader David Hann. "This is not going to be, as some fear and some hope, a sky's-the-limit sort of approach [to budgeting]. We have a $1.1 billion deficit we have to offset. ... We still owe the schools."

Daudt said the GOP will be happy to offer support for spending restraint.

"There's going to be a lot of pressure," he said after the briefing. "There's a lot of pent-up demand from the DFL's allies and friends, and I think restraint is what we need. I think that's all the more reason not to do anything too drastic at this time. ... We'll agree with the DFL where we can and we'll offer clear alternatives when we don't."

Bakk acknowledged that there are plenty of items on Democrats' wish lists, but said that they "soon will learn that there's very little money for anything new. I realize that there's a lot of important subject areas that have been grossly underfunded, things like early childhood education spending, reinvestment, but people are going to have to restrain themselves some. I think the governor's going to put together and the Legislature's going to pass a budget that has additional spending cuts in it."

Thissen, of Minneapolis, said DFLers won majorities in the House and Senate, in part, thanks to their promise to put the state on sound financial footing. He said achieving "structural budget balance" is something the Democrats will "reach far" to achieve, "because that's part of what the people elected us to do, actually balance our budget once and for all."

A balanced budget was a point of common ground for both parties, but taxes were the topic where the agreement ended. Hann warned that tax increases could cost jobs -- a point Dayton sharply disputed.

Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the problem was not revenue, but state spending that had outpaced growth in the economy. "You talk about balance, that should be the balance you look at," he said.

There likely will be another bonding bill next year -- including funds for repair of the crumbling State Capitol, and money for mass transit and the regional convention centers that were left out of this year's bill. Daudt, R-Crown, said there could be support in the GOP caucus for a bonding bill, but he said he would prefer to see the budget bill pass first.

The DFL's go-slow approach extends to social issues as well. Gay marriage? Time for a statewide "conversation" on the issue, the leaders said.

"I often remind members of the Legislature that once you're sworn in, you have a responsibility to represent everybody in your district, not just the people who voted for you," Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.

Medical marijuana? Dayton is opposed, but Bakk has supported legalization in the past and believes there might be a way to craft a bill that would ease law enforcement concerns about the issue.

Staff writer Jim Ragsdale contributed to this report. Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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