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GOP: Republicans prevented tax hikes

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, the Republican Party's endorsee for governor, says the GOP protected Minnesotans from higher taxes during the recent session, in a news conference/rally Tuesday night at the Bemidji Regional Airport. With him are Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, left, of Rochester and House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove. Also on the state swing-around were Assistant Senate Minority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo and Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Minnesota Republicans held firm on no tax increases while protecting essential services, GOP legislative leaders said Tuesday.

When DFL lawmakers couldn't provide a balanced budget without tax increases a year ago, Gov. Tim Pawlenty set spending priorities an unalloted $2.7 billion in spending. The Minnesota Supreme Court found that action illegal, giving lawmakers another $2.7 billion hole to fill.

"What did we hear for the last 12 months? We heard a whole bunch of wailing and gnashing of teeth and screaming," said Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano. "The irony of the situation is (Monday) we approved all the governor's spending priorities that he actually put out there a year ago."

Emmer and other GOP legislative leaders held a news conference Tuesday night at the Bemidji Regional Airport in what at times seemed like a rally for Emmer, the Republican endorsee for governor.

"We did absolutely nothing about long-term permanent structural change in the state of Minnesota," Emmer said, adding that Pawlenty has served as a goaltender stopping billion-dollar tax increases.

Democrats last week tried to raise taxes by a half-billion dollars, he said. They simply prolonged the day of reckoning.

"It's Republicans who will lead the state back on the road to prosperity," Emmer said.

Democrats talk about needing new revenues or else programs and services will be cut, he said. "They refuse to attack the bureaucracy that is government. They refuse to look at the excesses and redundancies and all of the duplication that we have in the business of government."

Instead of saying more money is needed for a program, "maybe we don't need four state agencies on water," he said. Redesigning government is needed for a sustainable government.

Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, has such a bill to merge several natural resources agencies dealing with water, but it got stalled in the House.

"Regardless of who offers these things," Emmer said, "?we all know what needs to be done. ... It's about having the courage to bring these things forward, but then it's going to be about the will to finish the job."

Final negotiations hinged on health care provisions, which the Republicans say Democrats don't tell the full truth. Democrats claim former General Assistance Medical Care patients can be enrolled in a federal Medical Assistance program that would give the state $1.4 billion for its $188 million investment. Pawlenty refused the program.

"At the end of the session, that was truly the rock in the lawn mower," said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, who was on the negotiating team. "It's a fundamental difference on which way the state should go with Enhanced Medicaid, which is ObamaCare, which would be transferring the poorest Minnesotans onto Medicaid, expanding that and doubling that population over time."

It would cost the state more money, he said, and move the state into an obligation long down the road that could bankrupt the health care system in Minnesota, Dean said. Once in, the state could not back out, and while by 2014 federal reimbursements are at 90 percent, they drop after that.

And there is no guarantee federal funding will be there in 2014.

"The most important reason - once we move these folks from a Minnesota program where we can innovate, provide high quality low cost care, to a federal program that just pays for volumes of services - we could never reform them again," Dean said, who predicted the governor's race will be a referendum on the issue.

"If you vote for Tom Emmer, we will not be opting into MA and ObamaCare," he said. "If you vote for the Democrat, we almost surely will. It will be a referendum that will actually on the ballot, and I look forward to that debate."

Also on the media tour were Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester, House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove and Assistant Senate Minority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo.