Capitol Chatter: Let the state budget debate begin, but gently
ST. PAUL — No one expected Minnesota Democratic legislators to fully agree with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal, and they were right.
Not even Dayton thought all would be rosy: “I don’t expect this to be popular because we are trying to make up a $1 billion deficit.”
Democrats were careful to avoid sounding too critical.
“It’s a little abstract right now as we are trying to dig into it,” House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul said. “We need to do the harder work on what it means to Minnesotans.”
“Legislators are going to have their own ideas about this budget,” she added.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said he would push to “modify” some of Dayton’s education funding proposals. Murphy was gentle when she said that House Democrats would like to pay back money the state borrowed from schools faster than Dayton proposes.
“The governor does it in this budget, but he just does it in the next biennium,” Murphy said. “We would like to be a little more aggressive than that.”
Republicans were not as gentle, and would love to make big changes in what Dayton proposes. But they lack House and Senate votes to force those changes.
“This is simply a massive increase in taxing, a massive increase in spending to do exactly what we do today,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said.
Dayton often said after unveiling his budget plan that he welcomes other people’s ideas. But at the same time the governor and other Democrats say the entire plan is a package and if one part is changed it may cause it all to fall apart.
A national transportation research group says Minnesota needs to spend up to $9 billion on “deteriorated and congested roads, deficient bridges, needed safety improvements and transit deficiencies.”
The group, TRIP, reports the cost of failing transportation systems falls on residents, businesses and visitors.
TRIP’s report shows that several roads are significantly congested and “sections of major roads or highways have significant pavement deterioration and need to be reconstructed.”
Nearly a third of Minnesota’s major roads need to be repaired, TRIP reports. Among the biggest needs the group reports are Interstate 94 in the Twin Cities and western Minnesota, Interstate 90 across the south, U.S. 61 in the Red Wing area and Minnesota 194 in and near Duluth.
“Investing in Minnesota’s transportation system and eliminating these challenges by improving the condition and efficiency of the state’s roads, bridges and transit systems will be an effective step in growing the state’s economy, enhancing quality of life and making Minnesota an attractive place to live, work and visit,” TRIP Executive Director Will Wilkins said.
Gov. Mark Dayton did not include a public works funding proposal in his budget plan, but he hints one will be coming.
“I am in favor of a bonding bill,” Dayton said about a public works bill funded by the state selling bonds.
He inserted, “as a placeholder,” $500 million for construction projects. However, he said he would wait to decide about bonding until after a Feb. 28 revenue report.
When he does present a bill, the governor said that downtown civic centers in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud will top his list.
If you think you have it bad when you fight a cold, consider Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.
The past few days have been among the most important for Dayton administration commissioners, who were called upon time and time again to sell the governor’s budget plan. But she struggled talking in committee appearances as a cold got the best of her.
“If I was your parent,” Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, told her with a smile, she would not have gone to work.
She could not go home, but did need to leave soon after Huntley’s comments: “I apologize, but I have the legislative auditor coming to my office.”
Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said he also had been fighting a nasty cold, but took medicine so he could get through Tuesday’s budget release and the following days of hectic activity.
Colds have been spreading throughout the state Capitol complex since the legislative session began early this month.
Dayton vs. GOP, feds
Maybe it was the pain he faced as he recovers from back surgery, but Gov. Mark Dayton was not kind to a couple of groups of politicians when he introduced his budget proposal.
While saying that he does not expect federal budget problems to hurt Minnesota too much, he took out after his former colleagues in Congress.
“I’m not holding my breath to see Congress tackle responsibly the challenges they face,” the former U.S. senator said. “When will they ever learn?”
He also attacked Minnesota Republicans, who claim the Dayton budget would raise taxes on the middle class.
“I don’t know where you could fabricate raising taxes on the average Minnesotan,” he said, saying Republicans “misinformed Minnesotans about the facts of my tax proposal for the past two years.... I had truth on my side.”
The state budget was the talk of the Capitol in recent days, but Michael Brodkorb returned to the spotlight after he was critically injured in a Wednesday night car accident.
The former top GOP aide was in Region’s Hospital in St. Paul.
Brodkorb, 39, was a high Republican Party official, then went to work for state Senate Republicans. While there, he and then-Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo began an affair that led to Brodkorb being fired in December of 2011 and Koch leaving her leadership post.
Do it yourself
Minnesotans who want to delve into Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget plan may see it and supporting information at www.mn.gov/governor/budget/toolkit.