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Legislators share viewpoints on 2011 marathon
by Forrest Adams
Jul 28, 2011 | 1031 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The state government is back at work, and the historic government shutdown ended after 20 days.

Arguably, neither Republican legislators nor the Democratic governor got exactly what they wanted out of the shutdown, and both sides remain at odds over the 2012-13 budgets that Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law. From neither side of the political aisle was there chest thumping or shouts of triumph over a victory.

This year's Legislature was historic for ending in the longest state shutdown in Minnesota's history, but other things made it historic as well. When the 2011 Minnesota Legislature conveyed in January, it was under full Republican control for the first time in 38 years. As such, elected Republicans from Senate District 34, which includes Carver County and part of Scott County, played a prominent role in the lawmaking.

Sen. Julianne Ortman, a Chanhassen Republican, was the first woman to chair the Senate Tax Committee since Minnesota's statehood. Ortman joked during the session that this year she was able to vote for a senate tax bill for the first time since she was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2002. She was the bill's chief author.

Rep. Joe Hoppe, a Chaska Republican, found himself serving as assistant minority leader in the House of Representatives and chair of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. After scant authorship of bills while the House was under DFL control, this year Hoppe was the chief author of 22 bills. Not only that, but he was also among the Republican leaders to accompany the governor on Pokegama Lake this May for the Governor's Fishing Opener.

The 2010 election brought many new faces into the Legislature, one of them a staunchly conservative Republican from Mayer named Ernie Leidiger, who filled the House seat vacated by Paul Kohls, a Victoria Republican who retired from the House following his failed bid for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010.

Leidiger made headlines this session, not so much for the legislation he authored but because he invited a controversial talk radio preacher from Minneapolis to lead prayer on the House floor. The preacher, named Bradlee Dean, suggested that President Barack Obama doesn't believe in Jesus Christ, and in the past Dean has reportedly equated homosexuals with predators and molesters.

Leidiger later said the reason he invited Dean was because of Dean's advocacy for Constitutional education in public schools, and he said he was unaware of his radical anti-gay views.

Since the end of the state shutdown, Leidiger has come under more scrutiny for telling his constituents that he would vote against the budget bills because they would increase state spending.

However, the vote tally shows Leidiger voted for the bills, with the exception of the bonding bill.

In the aftermath, Leidiger claimed in an e-mail to the newspaper that he and 15 other conservative GOP House members indeed planned to vote against the budget bills until Republican leaders promised them a conservative slant on next session's agenda.

"The conservatives stayed together and were assured conservative policies would prevail in the future," he said.

The Legislature is adjourned until Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012.

Name: Julianne Ortman

Top bills you authored this session:

Tax Conformity Bill, Tax Policy and Technical Bill, Tax Omnibus Bill, 5 Legal Reform Bills

Highlight of the session:

Personally: Attending the Memorial Service for Senator Linda Scheid with dozens of other legislators; we celebrated her life and contributions with her family, and constituents in the Brooklyn Park Community Center.

Professionally: Passing my first Tax Omnibus Bill out of the Senate. After being in the minority for 8 years, it was exciting to see my ideas passing with support through both Houses of the Legislature: Homeowner Property Tax Relief, Estate Tax Reform to protect small businesses and farmers, maintaining LGA and County Program Aid at 2010 Levels, permanently (saving hundreds of millions of dollars for the next 4 years), eliminating the broken Market Value Credit Program, correcting the Tax Incidence study to include federal taxation, property tax relief for disabled veterans and spouses of veterans.

Lowlight of the session: June 30, 2011, when the governor left the capitol for the evening without first passing a “lights on” bill or ordering a special session, with no alternative but shutdown.

Why did you vote the way you did on the final budget bills?

The plan got us over the impasse between the Legislature’s goal to limit spending to funds available, and the governor’ goal to spend $1.4 billion more, with a tax increase. The governor put Minnesotans to the test of shutdown and constitutional crisis: he vetoed our $34. 2 billion balanced budget — but only after the Constitutional deadline required that we adjourn. He had no alternative with legislative support. After that, only the governor could call a special session to allow work on an alternative. He insisted on shutdown and refused to call a special session until we agreed to more spending. Sadly, he accepted a compromise made by legislative leaders on June 30; the shutdown was completely avoidable and unnecessary.

On a scale of one to five, with five the best and one the worst, please rate your performance as a legislator this session? Why?

5. As Chair of the Tax Committee, I worked to lead the debate on tax policy in St. Paul with a different point of view: our tax code should encourage competitiveness, stability, and economic growth. We passed important tax reforms this year and will accomplish even more in 2012.

A lot of the problems the state Legislature encounters have to do with projected spending and revenue. Should this process be reformed? Why?

Yes, I have proposed a Constitutional Amendment that will limit biennial spending to 98 percent of projected revenues (the other 2 percent would be set aside in reserve). We have a spending problem; there will always be more wants, more good ideas and programs to fund. We need additional constitutional clarification on what it means to adopt a balanced budget. We also need more institutional pressure to respond to economic realities.

Legislators are in session for five months of the year. Why is so much time needed if a special session will be required anyway?

This year is a very good example of why five months is necessary. After the 2010 election we had record numbers of new legislators and brand new majorities in the House and Senate. The new majorities wanted to take a direction that has not been taken in 40 years: to reduce the size and footprint of state government. It takes time to reorganize, educate, plan, prepare bills, hold public hearings and reach consensus.

The governor’s budget proposal was $36 billion. The Republican proposal was $34 billion. The final budget turned out to be $35.4 billion. What brought the Republican caucus so close to the governor’s number?

See above.

The governor opposed social policies that were found in initial Republican budget proposals. Why were social issues brought into the budget discussion?

My understanding is that no such offer was made; rather leaders and the governor were exploring all potential avenues for compromise. I was not in favor of introducing social policy issues in the budget negotiations.

Would it be accurate to say that the Republican’s education funding shift and tobacco bond borrowing are examples of ‘kicking the can down the road?’

Both are funds available to us (the school funds are reserves, and the Tobacco bonds use revenues that are already coming to the state). When a business or family experiences a budget crisis, they must look at all funds available and make the best choices they can to resolve the immediate crisis and then lay a foundation for longer term financial health. In my view these proposals were less than ideal, but better than tax increases. Once the leaders and the governor agreed to these funding methods, we worked diligently to ensure that the increased spending was not used to fund long-term spending commitments, but were used to invest in spending reductions that would generate long-term budget savings. We have reduced the 2012-2013 budget from the $39 billion plan adopted in 2010, and reduced the structural deficit. It is a big step in the right direction.

What can we expect from you next January when the Legislature is seated again?

More reforms intended to further reduce the size, cost and footprint of state government; more reforms to encourage economic growth and competitiveness, including more Tax Reform.

Name: Joe Hoppe

Top bills you authored this session: I was the author of a number of commerce-related bills this year. They were mostly technical, dealing with insurance, annuities, banking, etc. While not very exciting, they were very important to both businesses and consumers in Minnesota.

Highlight of the session: Meeting with the Korean Ambassador regarding the Korea/American Free Trade Agreement.

Lowlight of the session: Not getting a budget agreement that would have avoided a government shutdown after being so very close to a deal in the final days of June.

Why did you vote the way you did on the final budget bills?

We needed to get the shutdown over with, so I was planning on voting for the deal in any event. As the details in the bills were finalized over the weekend, I became more enthused about the final product. There are many reforms in these bills that will help Minnesota down the road.

On a scale of one to five, with five the best and one the worst, please rate your performance as a legislator this session?

As the chair of the commerce committee in the House, I enjoyed the process of moving bills from concept to passage. As a mem-ber of the leadership team, I liked helping to get bills passed. Getting support from Democrats as well as Republicans, Senate and House members in order to get legislation advanced is enjoyable.

A lot of the problems the state Legislature encounters have to do with projected spending and revenue. Should this process be reformed?

A lot of the problems that the state Legislature has are due to the huge increase in spending over the past 30 years. While it would be nice to flatten out the projections, it would be nicer to not want to spend so much in the first place.

Legislators are in session for five months of the year. Why is so much time needed if a special session will be required anyway?

While the budget is being worked on starting early in the session, there are many other bills that are being worked on simulta-neously. There is a tremendous amount of committee work that doesn’t pertain directly to the budget.

The governor’s budget proposal was $36 billion. The Republican proposal was $34 billion. The final budget turned out to be $35.4 billion. What brought the Republican caucus so close to the governor’s number?

Among other things, the $34 billion budget that we passed increased spending by over $5 billion from the previous biennium, dealt with the deficit, increased education funding, and had substantive reforms – all without raising taxes. The governor vetoed that budget. The final budget deal was the best compromise that we could negotiate with the governor.

The governor opposed social policies that were found in initial Republican budget proposals. Why were social issues brought into the budget discussion?

Many issues were brought into the negotiations. The final budget bills are full of policy provisions.

Would it be accurate to say that the Republican’s education funding shift and tobacco bond borrowing are examples of ‘kicking the can down the road?’

This was not a perfect budget solution and using the funding shift and tobacco bond money were not my preferred alternatives. Having said that, this money won’t be permanent spending and the final budget deal is better than it could have been.

What can we expect from you next January when the legislature is seated again?

I will continue to work on commerce issues in particular and to make sure that government is spending our tax money wisely in general.

Name: Ernie Leidiger

Top bills you authored this session: E-Verify use required by state contractor; targeted misdemeanor clarified to include no contact order misdemeanor violations for the purpose of requiring fingerprinting; wage and hour provisions modified.

Highlight of the session: The last day of the session when we had passed the balanced budget and we accomplished passing so many reforms in the bills without a tax increase.

Lowlight of the session: The governor shut down government for no reason on June 30, when we were all there and could have at least passed a “lights on” bill. The governor just quit the negotiations.

Why did you vote the way you did on the final budget bills?

I voted yes when leadership promised a legislative agenda next year centered around spending reforms and restrictions on increasing tax rates. There are excellent reforms in the bills we signed that will retard government spending. So I support them. However, the one-time spending increases must not appear again next biennium. They must be eliminated.

On a scale of one to five, with five the best and one the worst, please rate your performance as a legislator this session?

I rate myself as a 4.5. I became more effective as the year went on, and I was able to help influence voting toward conservative principles.

A lot of the problems the state Legislature encounters have to do with projected spending and revenue. Should this process be reformed? Why?

We have a major problem, it’s government spending. Private sector jobs are key to moving our economy forward. Government spending takes money out of the private sector retarding growth. We need to pass a bill that provides a mechanism to justify government spending. The best mechanism was the zero-based budgeting initiative that the governor stripped out of the Gov Ops bill. It needs to be passed because every government agency needs to justify its existence. It’s the only way we will see a reduction and right-sizing of the size of government.

Legislators are in session for five months of the year. Why is so much time needed if a special session will be required anyway?

If the governor would have engaged the Legislature instead of waiting to the end of the session, we could have be done in three or four months. This governor was intent on promoting his liberal ideology and the Dayton-Obama-Soros socialist agenda. Notice that it’s always the Democrats that want to increase spending and increase taxation, and now want to totally redistribute the wealth. This ideology needs to be stopped; it’s ruining the free market system.

The governor’s budget proposal was $36 billion. The Republican proposal was $34 billion. The final budget turned out to be $35.4 billion. What brought the Republican caucus so close to the governor’s number?

The state did not need to spend another $1.4 billion. The legislature handed the governor a balanced budget at $34 billion. It was enough. But the Governor would not back down. He intended to hurt as many Minnesotans as he could by shutting down the state government for political reasons.

The governor opposed social policies that were found in initial Republican budget proposals. Why were social issues brought into the budget discussion?

Most of the policy reforms were also linked with fiscal reforms and needed to remain in the bills for the reductions in spending to work. It was the bases for balancing the budget.

Would it be accurate to say that the Republican’s education funding shift and tobacco bond borrowing are examples of ‘kicking the can down the road?’

Yes. To a certain extent it is like kicking the can down the road. Spending is the problem. The governor and Democrats in the Legislature are all about spending. The Republicans hold the line on spending. What took place was one-time spending and not programmed spending. So we need to ensure that the one-time money is no longer available next time we do the budget. To do that, we need to pass a zero-based budgeting initiative to illuminate and consolidate government agencies.

What can we expect from you next January when the Legislature is seated again?

We will pass and place on the ballot the voter ID bill and a bill that limits the authority to increase taxes. We will then continue work on spending decreases and reducing the size of government. This, in tandem with holding the line on taxes, will help promote job growth in the private sector.

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