Voters signal approval of Dayton in delivering DFL majorities

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton speaks during Our Vote Our Future election night celebration party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at the St, Paul RiverCentre in St. Paul.
Anthony Kwan for MPR

Anyone looking for a real winner from Tuesday's legislative elections in Minnesota need only look to the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton, which for two years has called for new taxes on the state's highest earners without much success.

When Minnesota voters returned control of both houses of the state Legislature to the DFL Party on Tuesday, they opened the door to Dayton's agenda, which was blocked by Republicans who took the majority in 2010.

With 20 legislative seats changing hands in the 201-member Legislature, and possibly two more if close races go to recounts, Myron Frans, the state commissioner of revenue, will soon play a key role in state politics.

Frans said the Dayton administration hopes for a friendlier reception from the new Minnesota Legislature when it rolls out its tax plan in January. He said the governor wants to distribute the burden -- including taxes on sales, property and income -- fairly.

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"We want to obviously try to make things more simple and competitive," Frans said, "so that other businesses, around the country and around the state, see Minnesota as a place that can really have a balanced budget, do the right kinds of investments in education and infrastructure, and yet do it in a way that doesn't put too much of a burden on any one part of the economy."

But Democrats were approaching the tax subject gingerly. Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, who is likely to become the next speaker of the House, would not say if their renewed control of the Legislature would prompt them to raise taxes.

"We have yet to caucus, and we're going to need to talk about that," Thissen said. "But here's the deal. Everybody continues to talk about a tax increase. What happened over the last two years is we had huge property tax increases. What we need to look at is how our whole tax system fits together, and that's going to be the focus of any tax discussion that we have."

But Democrats did say that finances would be at the top of their agenda when the legislative session begins in January.

Newly elected state Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, said that was a message that resonated in his victory over first-term GOP incumbent John Howe.

"Our priorities were pretty simple," Schmit said. "I mean, hey, let's balance this budget once and for all. Folks know the games that have been played up there with that thing. The second point we really stressed was that we want to provide some property tax relief at the local level."

Minn. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (left) met with the governor on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, at the state Capitol to discuss post-election plans for Democrats after regaining the majority in the Minnesota House and Senate.
Alex Kolyer for MPR

Republicans say their priority will be job creation. But even their supporters wondered how that will play out in light of the Republican defeats on Tuesday.

"The electorate has tired of this 'jobs, jobs, jobs' refrain, and they see nothing happening," said Phil Krinkie, the president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. "So they go, 'Hey, these guys didn't do it; let's give these other guys a chance.'"

Krinkie, a former Republican lawmaker from Anoka, said he doesn't think raising more revenue will be a winning formula for the DFL, either.

Prospective Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, also sidestepped the tax issue, although he made an indirect reference to one of the hallmarks of the Republican Legislature: a steadfast resistance to tax increases. He said voters have sent a different message.

"They want this rigidity and this unwillingness to compromise to be put on the shelf, and to work for a Minnesota that's creating jobs, [is] more competitive, provides a good quality education," Bakk said. "Quit borrowing from our schools, reform state government so that it works better and then balance the state budget."

For his part, Dayton showed no signs of backing down.

"I started my campaign for governor almost four years ago, saying what the facts are," Dayton said. "According to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, under then-Gov. [Tim] Pawlenty ... the top 10 percent, 5 percent, 1 percent of people in the Minnesota income level don't pay as high a percentage of their income in state and local taxes as middle-income taxpayers. That was the basic thesis of my campaign, and it's a conviction."

Democrats will take the first steps toward shaping their agenda on Thursday. They have scheduled elections to pick a House speaker and the Senate majority leaders.

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