State Sen. Sandy Pappas said Thursday that DFLers and Republicans probably won't work together to confront the state's $6.2 billion budget deficit.
"They're in charge," Pappas said, speaking of the new Republican majority in the state Senate. "They need to figure it out, and if they want ... to consult with us, they can do that."
Pappas, a DFLer, represents Senate District 65, an area that includes part of the city of St. Paul. She said that Republicans will work with the state's new DFL governor, Mark Dayton, but are unlikely to partner with DFL legislators.
The DFLer spoke with MPR's Tom Crann at the State Capitol on Thursday. An edited transcript of the interview is below.
Tom Crann: You've been in the Senate since 1990, and the DFL has had power, been in the majority longer than that, 38 years. So, what was it like to watch the transition of power to the Republicans?
State Sen. Sandy Pappas: Well, you know, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good is that they have promoted the women in their caucus to leadership positions. So we had to applaud them, first woman president, and I have to admit that was a little bittersweet for me because I actually ran for president eight years ago and just lost by a couple votes. So of course I would've rather had the first woman president be me, but congratulations to Michelle Fischbach, the first woman majority leader in the Senate ...
It's very interesting how they really have, the women in their caucus have been there for a long time. They have seniority. They're the ones who are the most competent and were elected, no surprise, by their colleagues to be in charge.
Crann: What are your impressions so far of Mark Dayton?
Pappas: I'm very impressed with how Governor Dayton has handled things. I wasn't there when he signed the bill for us to cooperate with federal health care, but I did read about it this morning, and I heard that he let the opposition also speak. And I thought that was good. It makes sense for him.
He's got to work with a Republican legislature that very much disagrees with him, and so he might as well start out on a positive foot. A lot of this is relationships, and you know none of us spent enough time with Pawlenty. He just was not very welcoming. He wasn't very open. I think in eight years I was at the mansion once, in his office maybe once or twice. It's much better for a governor to be more willing to work with legislators, whatever political party.
Crann: Also since last time we talked, a new budget number, $6.2 billion, the gap that needs to be closed. Governor Dayton says that he wants to raise taxes on the highest earners in Minnesota. He ran on that, but that won't be enough to close that gap. So, what sort of cuts are you willing to look at to do that?
Pappas: Well, that's a really tough question for me, a liberal Democrat from the city, because my constituents are so affected by cuts. If we cut funding for schools, that's devastating for my city. If we cut local government aid, that's devastating for snow plowing and police and fire. If we cut nursing homes, that's devastating for the seniors in my district. Many of them are low income and depended on that.
Crann: The areas you identify that are important to you and you say are important to your constituents, if they're all off-limits and there isn't enough revenue from the taxes that Mark Dayton wants to raise, then how can this be solved? Are there other areas that are not off-limits as far as you're concerned, or at least certain parts of things that aren't off-limits?
Pappas: Well, there's part of this problem that will be solved by the buy-in with federal health care. That will bring in a billion-plus dollars to Medicaid. Partly we owe the schools 1.4 billion. We can delay the payback of that. It's a problem for them, but it's not as bad as direct funds. There's about 600 million that Pawlenty did in unallotments that we can not pay back. They've already worked those into their budgets. But you kind of get down to still another final two or three billion.
Crann: That's a lot of money.
Pappas: It's still a lot of money. And if that, you're talking about half in revenue, half in cuts, then I think that you probably have a budget that even Democrats could vote for. You know I have voted for cuts in the past, as painful as they've been.
Crann: Do you get a sense now that you're all sworn in, that there is a good sense of working together to get this job done?
Pappas: Um, no. I don't think so.
Crann: And why? Tell me.
Pappas: I think that the sense is that it's the majority party's job to do it. Certainly, in a sense that working together with Governor Dayton to try to get the job done, but I don't feel like they're going to be consulting with us to get the job done. I think they feel like they have to figure it out themselves.
Crann: In other words, are you saying, 'Let them do it because they got elected,' or are you saying, 'We're willing to work with them?'
Pappas: Let them do it because they got elected.
Crann: Is that what people want when it comes to bipartisanship, people who say, 'They should work together up there?'
Pappas: Well, we have to be included. We have to be asked, and you know it's not our--. I don't think it would be very well received if we went to the committees and said, 'Here's how you should do it. I used to do this, so I know best.' That's not appropriate. They're in charge. They need to figure it out, and if they want ... to consult with us, they can do that.
(Interview transcribed and edited by MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran.)