Minn. budget deal doesn't sit well with lay political watchers

Signing budget
A stack of budget bills with signatures from Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Gov. Mark Dayton sit at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, July 20, 2011.
MPR File Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The budget deal that ended Minnesota's longest-ever government shutdown this week left plenty of disgruntled voters.

Some Democrats are upset that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton gave up his push for higher taxes on the state's wealthiest residents, while some Republicans wanted deeper cuts in state spending.

Jim Carlen of St. Paul uses the phrase heard often this week to describe the settlement that finally brought an end to the 20-day shutdown.

"Kicking the can down the road, you hear that from many people and I would share that opinion," Carlen said.

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Carlen describes himself as a longtime Republican who works in the financial industry. He said he's disappointed with the final budget deal, which delays 40 percent of payments to Minnesota's public schools, and borrows against future payments from the tobacco companies.

Carlen thinks the growth of Minnesota government is unsustainable.

He said both Republicans and Democrats missed an opportunity to reform state government.

"That could have been an opportunity to rethink ... the state's role in the economy," he said.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Suzanne Updike, a St. Paul resident who describes herself as a liberal Democrat, does not fault DFL lawmakers for their role in the budget stalemate and resulting shutdown.

Updike, a state employee who works in the Enterprise Technology Office, said in her view, Republicans who control the Legislature didn't include Democratic lawmakers in crafting a budget.

"They were pretty locked in by the majority, there wasn't a lot of negotiating room there," said Updike.

Updike said she's a DFL contributor and worked once at a get-out-the-vote phone bank.

She said as the stalemate stretched on, she decided to resume political activism.

"I've actually already contacted the DFL," said Updike. "I said, 'Sign me up. Tell me what you need me to do.'"

Software developer Avonelle Lovhaug, a Republican from Shoreview, calls the shutdown "a collassal waste of time and money."

But Lovhaug thinks Republicans did the right thing by opposing a tax hike.

And she calls the combination of spending cuts, shifts and borrowing in the final deal acceptable.

"I'm not enthusiastic about the delaying the payments to schools again. That seems like a bunch of hackery and not actual solving the problem," said Lovhaug. "But I'm glad to the extent that we're not going to see tax increases."

St. Paul Democrat Pat Litchy blames Republicans for the disagreement and the shutdown, and credits Dayton for being, as she puts it, "the grownup in the room."

But will any of this matter when voters go to the polls next year? Litchy said voter reaction to the shutdown is not easy to predict.

"I don't know. I would like to think they will care and they will remember," said Litchy. "But I think that too many citizens see the ugliness of the political landscape and they just turn off to it."

But Republican Avonelle Lovhaug thinks voters most directly affected by the shutdown will have a reaction by the next election.

"I think people will probably remember generally there was a lot of hoo-haa and didn't look like a lot of them were getting their job done. Whether that will change any votes in any way, I'm not sure," said Lovhaug. "People are already dug in."

Republican Jim Carlen predicts the health of the economy will be a much bigger deal to voters next year.

"My guess is the economic situation will be better and as a result the shutdown will not be a huge issue," he said.

But if the state's economy is worse, the budget problems will re-occur and both sides will again debate taxes and spending.