Local, area DFL and GOP lawmakers at odds on subject of budget
Local Democratic legislators maintain that the Republican budget would result in 100 percent cuts, no increase in revenue and offers no compromise.
Local Republican legislators insist the DFLers are wrong, that the Republican budget increases health and human services and K-12 education spending and that it already is a compromise.
Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, who represents District 2, and Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, who represents District 4A, held a press conference Wednesday morning at Bemidji City Hall. They discussed the closure of the 2011 Legislature without a budget bill.
Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, who represents District 4, held an editorial meeting at the Pioneer Wednesday afternoon on the same subject. Rep. David Hancock, R-Bemidji, who represents District 2B, expressed his opinion of the legislative outcome in a column in Wednesday's Pioneer.
The parties are at odds on the subject of the budget and each accuses the other of causing the stalemate.
The governor's proposed budget comes in at about $37 billion for the next two years and would raise revenue by increasing income taxes on the 2 percent of richest Minnesotans, about 45,000 people, according to Persell. This was a compromise reduction from increased income tax on the top 5 percent.
Carlson and Hancock say the Republicans have already compromised by increasing their January budget limit from about $32 billion to $34 billion without raising revenue.
"All the freshmen campaigned on that," Carlson said. "It was a tough decision because we came here telling people we were going to balance the budget at $32 billion. The overall budget is 6 percent over the last biennium."
"This is the most in general fund spending that the state of Minnesota has ever spent, and is indeed all that we have," Hancock said in his opinion piece.
Both Carlson and Hancock were elected to their first terms in 2010.
"That doesn't count as compromise with the governor," Skoe said. "The process of government is the process of compromise. Everybody gives a little, and there are wins on both sides."
That is why the agriculture budget bill is the only funding measure DFLers and Republicans agreed on, Persell said.
He pointed out that between 2001 and 2010 property taxes have increased from $5 billion to $7.9 billion, and the trend will continue to escalate as local governments pick up the tab for services.
Persell cited $49 million in cuts to special education and cuts in support for Meals on Wheels.
"I think folks are going to understand exactly how mean-spirited that Republican budget is," Persell said. "They are draconian. They are going after the least (those in need), and we won't stand for it."
"What I don't understand," Carlson said, "It's just so easy to say, 'Let's just grab somebody else's money, and then we don't have to make any hard decisions.' That's a coward's way out. The philosophy they (DFLers) have is they want to grow government. There's this insatiable appetite to grow."
"The major issue is not revenue, but spending," Hancock wrote. "We have an excessive spending problem."
Skoe pointed out that Minnesota is 39th per capita in the number of state employees but is one of the highest service states. He added that the price of government in Minnesota has decreased from 17.9 percent of personal income in 1994 to 15.5 percent in 2010.
Carlson said raising taxes on the rich will drive them out of Minnesota. He added that Minnesota's population is increasing because people come to the state to take advantage of various welfare services.
Skoe said raising income taxes on the top 2 percent is a modest increase and wouldn't affect their disposable income. As for small businesses, 7 percent would fall into the category, he said. And that would be after the business deductions such as for employees and travel, Persell said.
The impasse will result in a special session to come to an agreement among Senate and House leaders and the governor, Skoe said. But currently, neither side is budging. If no agreement is reached, state government will shut down July 1.
"When you see those people talking, you'll see progress Skoe said.
But he predicted dire consequences if a shut-down were to occur. The state's bond rating would drop, he said, and starting the services such as state parks closed by the shut-down would be difficult.
I don't want to see us shut down," Carlson said. "That doesn't make sense. But I don't know where we're going to go from here."