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Political messaging on high as shutdown looms
Jun 24, 2011 | 23089 views | 1 1 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

By Forrest Adams

With the countdown to a state government shutdown now in single digits, legislators and the governor are locked in a war of words over opposing budget proposals.

In their verbal jousting, Chanhassen’s Republican senator, Julianne Ortman, who serves as the senate tax committee chair, has a megaphone. Never before since Ortman was elected in 2002 has she been so visible in the public’s eye, so last week when she called the governor’s plan to increase taxes by $1.8 billion “complete hypocrisy,” it made the news.

Asked what she meant by that comment, Ortman explained that she felt a government shutdown was unnecessary, and it would be hypocritical for the governor to force one. She said the impetus is on Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to break the budget stalemate by compromising with Republicans.

“Why wouldn’t he just agree to our $34 billion budget? It’s the largest state budget we’ve ever had, and it funds all of the state’s essential services. If there’s something critical that we haven’t funded, let’s talk. I think our budget does fund everything that’s critical. I question the governor when he says that he’s really concerned about those folks, but he’s willing to hold them hostage to a tax increase of $1.8 billion. It’s not right.”

Political gamesmanship and rhetorical flourishes that began early in the legislative session continue unabated on both sides. On March 24, Gov. Dayton called Republican budget proposals extreme, drastic, cruel, draconian, terribly unfair and barbaric. Last week Ortman, who said she shares a voice with “so many citizens who are frustrated that we don’t have a budget yet,” said that she believes it’s the governor, not Republicans, behaving in a draconian way.

Empowered to speak publically in favor of the Republican proposal and against the governor’s, Ortman said since the legislative session adjourned, she has gone to St. Paul three times each week to strategize with other Republican lawmakers. Political messaging appears to be at a premium, and based on events that occurred over the weekend, the new message is that elected officials will forego their pay until striking a deal.

Dayton said Saturday that he would accept no salary during a looming government shutdown, and hours later Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said she would do the same. Last week in a private interview, Ortman said she has not collected a per diem since the session ended and would continue to not collect one in the event of a special session.

There’s a big “if” on whether or not a special session will even take place, and that is what makes this time different from others, according to Ortman.

 “It’s not special to have a special session anymore. What’s different this year is the governor’s willingness to bring us back into special session to finish because he’s not willing to negotiate in good faith,” said Ortman. “In 2003 we had a special session. Gov. Pawlenty called the Legislature back in at 12:01 a.m. the morning after the session ended. We were here the entire month of June.”

Minnesota came close to a shutdown in 2003 but in the end found the budget solution just hours before the state would shut down.

No compromise

The governor accuses Republicans of not compromising with him. Republicans accuse the governor of not compromising with them.

Last Thursday, Republican leaders offered to drop their plans for nearly $203 million in tax relief as a way to re-engage the governor and help bring budget talks closer to a deal. The new proposal, announced in front of the governor’s office, would match Dayton’s spending plan in several budget areas and incorporate increased spending on K-12 education, public safety and courts.

Republicans agreed to cut the tax relief in exchange for the governor to drop his request for higher taxes. Dayton wanted nothing to do with it. He dismissed the offer as a ploy and said the Republicans “haven’t budged one dollar.” He wants new revenue for the state.

On May 16, Dayton sent a letter to Koch and Rep. Kurt Zellers, a Maple Grove Republican now serving as Speaker of the House. The letter encouraged them to work with him to reach an agreement. He began it with the following sentence: “From the beginning of this legislative session, it has been clear that compromise by all of us would be the only way we could reach the necessary agreements to reach a balanced state budget for the next biennium.”

However, Republicans say they’re reading between the lines, and Dayton’s negotiating style doesn’t match his rhetoric. On Monday of this week they came out with a “new” message. Dayton is not compromising with them. The Republicans released an edited copy of that May 16 letter with snarky comments edited onto the document in red. The new letter begins: “From the beginning of this legislative session it has been clear to me that Republicans raising taxes would be the only way we could reach the necessary agreements to reach a state budget for the next biennium.”

Dayton and Republicans are locked in a stare down with neither side willing to blink first. Dayton said he would not negotiate specific budget areas until Republicans agree to meet him halfway on his request for new revenue. He also rejected a Republican proposal to hold a brief special session to fund transportation projects, nursing homes and what Koch deemed “life and safety” issues. He wants a full budget agreement before calling a special session.

Neither the leaders nor the governor said when they would meet for the next round of talks. Current biennial funding runs out June 30.

Shutdown Cost Estimate

Last week the governor came out with his proposal for “essential” state services that would continue in the event of a shutdown. According to the Minnesota Management and Budget Office, the cost to fund these would be roughly $114 million per two weeks and subject to change depending upon what the courts decide.

That number does not include making K-12 payments, higher education payments, LGA payments and health care provider payments — the vast majority of the state budget. Provider payments are payments that go to health-care providers to reimburse them for programs (including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes).

Around 80-85 percent of the entire state budget is covered by just four areas — Education, Health and Human Services, Higher Education, and Tax Aids and Credits to cities and counties.

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June 24, 2011
"...complete hypocrisy..." Ortman won't collect per diem, but takes a paycheck. Now there is something that our founding fathers would be proud of. None of them should be paid. We gave them a job... "hired" them to do a job, and they did not do it; yet they take our money and generous health care benefits for themselves and their families.
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