ANALYSIS: In Minnesota, 1-party rule clearly alters state course
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Here's where Minnesota Democrats and Republicans agree: The just-finished legislative session sent the state and its government on a dramatically different course than it traveled the last couple of decades.
Here's where they differ: Whether the work product of Democratic rule will leave the state better or worse for it.
The two-year, $38.3 billion budget solves a deficit while departing from the patch-and-squeeze approach that had become the norm. Taxes will be higher for some, but so will spending on schools everywhere. A long-running policy debate over state marriage law is over, though the reality of gay marriage won't set in for months.
The post-session spin from both sides could have been — and probably was — written before the Legislature convened in January.
"When people asked me last fall what would happen if we had a DFL Legislature and a DFL governor I said one word, 'Progress,'" Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday. "That's what we brought about in the last five months: Progress for education in Minnesota, progress for fairer property taxes, progress for a more progressive income tax to make our overall tax less regressive, progress for jobs now and for the future.
"I'm proud of the progress we made," he added.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, had a far different take.
"If I were to use one word to describe this session, I think 'overreach' is the word I would use," Daudt said. "All of the things we thought they would do, they did."
He said the more than $2.1 billion in tax increases will affect more people than suggested by Democrats' "tax-the-rich" refrain. He also said labor unions were too readily accommodated, particularly with a bill giving a path to unionization for home child care providers and home health care workers.
Anticipating the GOP criticism, Democrats insisted voters wanted an end to Capitol gridlock when they put one party in charge. And they say they delivered.
"Any movement, an inch off the status quo, would have been considered an overreach by some," said House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, a St. Paul Democrat. "That's not good enough for Minnesota. We need to move forward in the state of Minnesota and that's what we've done."
That's not to say everything was smooth. Some bills, chiefly an increase to the minimum wage, fell by the wayside amid Democratic infighting. Transportation funding advocates were disappointed by the lack of any major road-and-transit financing.
And surprisingly, lawmakers needed every last second to finish their work.
"Just because Democrats are in control of everything that doesn't mean there aren't going to be bumps in the road, and there were," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. "But I feel very good about the way we were able to iron those out and get to a timely conclusion."
For both parties, the end of session starts a full-throttle push to market the outcome.
Asked what the session's hallmark would be, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dave Thompson replied simply: "Tax, tax, tax."
The challenge for Democrats will be moving the conversation away from the big tax number to connect it to where that money is going. Almost one-third of it will plug the projected deficit, another third will fuel preschool through college programs and much of the rest is steered toward local governments and homeowner tax relief.
The new taxes won't directly hit everyone. Smokers get saddled with another $1.60 per-pack charge. Businesses are facing hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, which could be passed down the line.
More than half of the new tax revenue — $1.1 billion — is supposed to come from higher taxes on income above $150,000 for singles and $250,000 for married filers.
Freshman Rep. Joe Radinovich, a Crosby Democrat who is expected to have a stiff re-election challenge, estimated there were fewer than 300 families in his district that would feel the bite.
"When you say $150,000 or $250,000, the people in my district know it's not them," Radinovich said. More people back home, he said, will benefit from enhanced property tax relief measures that wouldn't happen without the extra state revenue.
Voters get to render their verdict in 2014, when the governor's office and the House are on the ballot. Dayton insists he will run again and Democrats will be defending a narrow five-seat majority without the help of a presidential election year turnout.
That's still a long way off, and lawmakers will spend a few more months in St. Paul next year before beginning their campaigns in earnest.
By Brian Bakst
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.