DFL lawmakers uncertain on attempt to seek tax increase
ST. PAUL -- Whether Democratic Minnesota senators favor passing a tax increase this year is an unanswered question.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis said Friday he agreed with those who say a tax increase will not succeed in light of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's strong opposition. But when reporters pushed him for a firm answer, he admitted that under some circumstances a bill raising taxes may come up.
However, two rural Democrats did not see the sense in pushing a tax increase.
Sens. LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer and Dan Skogen of Hewitt said Pawlenty's anti-tax attitude means lawmakers would waste their time talking more taxes.
Stumpf, chairman of the Senate's education funding committee, said the recession may have made cutting state programs easier.
"People's expectations are lessened by going through a tough time," he said, so Minnesotans may not mind budget cuts now as much as when the economy is good.
If Pawlenty continues to insist on no new taxes, his administration needs to make some changes, Stumpf said.
For instance, the Pollution Control Agency is insisting on enacting stricter septic system rules at a time when the public can least afford it, Stumpf said, adding that would be much like raising taxes.
Skogen suggested doing like California did when it dealt with its own budget crisis: Delay expensive rules such as the septic proposal until times are better.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, listened to Stumpf and Skogen say new taxes are out, enjoying every minute.
"I don't think the public is going to go along with that," he said about raising taxes. "We have to live within our means."
The Minnesota Vikings' efforts to find a funding source for a new stadium has been top-of-mind as the legislative session began.
Lawmakers from both parties say they want to keep the team in the state.
GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty floated the idea of using revenue from the Minnesota State Lottery as a potential solution during a radio interview, although it wasn't in the form of a proposal.
House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said balancing the budget has to be the main priority but that he'd be open lottery revenues as part of a potential solution.
Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, indicated that she wants to see a more firm proposal before making up her mind. "I think the leadership is going to have to come from the governor's office."
The issue isn't even a blip on Sen. Steve Dille's radar.
The Dassel Republican's gut feeling is that a bill will probably pass, though he doesn't sound thrilled at the notion. "Right now I wouldn't support it, but I'll wait and see.".
DFL leaders apparently want to look like they are playing nice with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
But there were some subtle jabs as the legislative session opened.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, told his colleagues in a brief opening-day session that Pawlenty would be "bringing his TelePrompter" Thursday for his annual State of the State address. Politicians using Teleprompters have come under fire in recent days.
Then on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, mentioned two things that he called "canary in the mineshaft" stories that he hinted showed Pawlenty may not be the most cooperative this session.
The first Pogemiller canary story was that Pawlenty promised to tell lawmakers how he proposes to plug a $1.2 billion budget deficit by mid-January. The suggestions still are not available, the senator said.
Pawlenty also promised a January fix for a program that provides health care to some poor Minnesotans, Pogemiller added, a fix he still has not heard.
Then there was a Pogemiller jab that was not so subtle, this one about Pawlenty's travel for his suspected desire to be president: "While you are multi-tasking, it would be good to do the job you have."
Minutes after the Senate opened Thursday, Republican Mike Parry was sworn in as the state's newest senator.
The Waseca businessman takes over the Senate District 26 seat vacated by Republican Dick Day, who resigned to lobby for a racino.
Break it down
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, wants the Legislature to break down the job of balancing the state budget, probably into three steps.
Pogemiller suggests taking the first $300 million step by cutting down some agency budgets that most lawmakers agree can be accomplished. The second phase of cuts would be more controversial, reducing some human services and, perhaps, education programs.
Pogemiller did not say what would be included in Phase 3, but it would be the most controversial and likely handled near the May 17 end of the legislative session.
Don Davis and Andrew Tellijohn work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.