MPR's All Things Considered followed veteran DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul and freshman GOP Rep. Kurt Daudt of Crown throughout the 2011 legislative session. The session has ended without a budget deal, and Pappas and Daudt spoke to MPR's Tom Crann separately to reflect on the session. Their thoughts are summarized below.
Tom Crann:How would you characterize the legislative session?
Sen. Sandy Pappas: It was rather uneventful. After the House passed the marriage amendment on Saturday night, there really wasn't much that appeared to be happening on Sunday or Monday. It was kind of anticlimactic. Usually you're scurrying with last-minute conference committees, long floor sessions, are we going to get through all the bills or not, and it was almost like the majority just threw in the towel early.
Crann: In past years there have been a lot of closed-door negotiations. Why wasn't it that way this year?
Pappas: I think because we've already broke the government-shutdown barrier under the Pawlenty administration a few years ago. We did have a partial government shutdown for something like eight days. There wasn't that sense that this was the final deadline.
There were multiple deadlines: the end of session deadline by the Constitution (the third Monday in May); the next deadline would be the end of June when the budget year runs out; and then the deadline is how long can we bear a partial government shutdown.
Crann: What's your prediction for an outcome by July 1?
Pappas: I think after a cooling-off period, that both sides will reach out and there will be an attempt to meet again. But I'm not hopeful, and I predict there will be a government shutdown. Pawlenty one year called us to a special session right after we had adjourned, and we all sat around and collected per diem for a month, and I don't think Gov. Dayton will do that.
Crann: Comedian Seth Meyers said at a White House dinner recently, referring to Congress: 'We are not proud of you just because you sit next to someone who has different views. We do it all the time. It's called Thanksgiving dinner.' Why is it so hard, once you get to the Capitol, to do that -- when the rest of us do it seemingly all the time?
Pappas: There is more sitting next to each other and talking than the public realizes. We socialize in the retiring room, we have birthday parties, baby showers, and especially for us who have been around for a long time, we go out to dinner together. But there just hasn't been enough time to get to know each other with 51 new members of the Legislature. And I'm sure that happens with Congress, too.
You need time and we need opportunities to really get to know each other as individuals and to build trust. And that's what you have at Thanksgiving Dinner — you've grown up together. It's your brother and your sister, even though you fight and disagree. So we need more time to grow up together as a Legislature.
Crann: I asked Rep. Daudt that same question about sitting down at the table like Thanksgiving.
Rep. Kurt Daudt: A lobbyist mentioned to me the last week of session, 'do you remember a time this late in the session that you haven't seen the legislative leadership and the governor around that big table in the governor's reception room, negotiating out and hammering out the details of a final budget? And that's the big question: Why didn't that happen?
The governor basically has not come to the table. The governor did not participate, has not given us feedback on our bills, has not facilitated that process. We have been excited to have those conversations and wanting to work out the differences so we can have a final agreement, and I don't know the answer to that.
Crann: Democrats are saying the governor says he has a standing offer for negotiations.
Daudt: A $1.8 billion tax increase is a standing offer, I'll agree with you, but the problem is we don't know what the offer is. We don't know what he wants to spend the money on. There's no details.
We know what our $34 billion budget looks like. ... We know what was in statute. If we do nothing or pass exactly what's in statute, we would have a $39 billion budget. I think everybody knew we couldn't have that $39 billion budget, so we passed a $34 billion budget, the governor has proposed something higher than that. But we haven't seen any details on where he wants to spend that money. I don't know how we can say, 'Sure, governor. We're going to increase taxes $1.8 billion without knowing where the money is going.'
Crann: Is there any willingness to maybe consider that, if you know where the money is going?
Daudt: I don't know. I will say that I don't think there are enough votes in the House for an income tax increase. Are there other options? I don't think so. Frankly, we've got additional revenue. We're going to increase the general fund budget by 6 percent under our plan. I don't think the votes are there to increase it beyond that.
I think when you ask people, is that a reasonable amount of spending? I think they say it is. How many people do you know who have increased their family budget by more than 6 percent? Probably not that many.
Crann: If there aren't votes for a tax increase, are there other ways to raise revenue?
Daudt: I think there certainly are some other possibilities. There has been a lot of media attention on gaming revenue, whether it be a casino or racino. I personally don't like those ideas, but if they're part of a final deal it's certainly a possibility. But we haven't had those conversations in any negotiations with the governor. If we need to come up with additional revenue instead of tax increases to close a deal, I certainly think they're on the table. I don't know how feasible they are but they're certainly on the table.
Crann: This is your first session. What have you learned that you didn't expect?
Daudt: Probably a lot. When you're first elected, there's some excitement with that. You think you can just grab the whole state of Minnesota by the horns and wrestle it down, and that you'll end up passing numerous bills that will become law. And you find out very quickly that the process doesn't exactly work like that. It's a slow-moving process.
But some of my stuff got folded into the omnibus bills, so it was nice to see that those got passed. I think they ultimately all got vetoed, but maybe they'll be part of a final deal. It's nice to be able to have an impact and know that a bill you drafted became law, so I'm hoping to see that.
(Interviews transcribed by MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.)