Democrats, Republicans push their take on the legislative session

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, talked about the legislative session as majority leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, looked on Tuesday, May 21, 2013.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Republicans and Democrats agreed Tuesday on one thing about the 2013 legislative session: It was historic — but for very different reasons.

DFL leaders said they'd ended years of chronic budget and financial problems for the state. Republicans called the five-month session a political blunder of historic proportions.

Same-sex marriage, tax hikes and health care reform may have made headlines this legislative session, but Democrats say it's the little things they think Minnesotans will notice in coming months.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben of Newport ran through her list this morning, flanked by Gov. Mark Dayton and other DFL leaders.

"My neighbors won't pay $2,600 for all-day every-day kindergarten. That's real money that will be back in people's pockets, and it will help achieve better educational outcomes for Minnesota children," Sieben said. "The second thing is our babysitter won't see a tuition hike at the University of Minnesota, after she enrolls there as a freshman."

Sieben and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk also said they helped repeal a long-standing complaint by cities that they have to pay the state sales tax on the things local governments buy.

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"Cottage Grove has said that they'll save over $200,000 alone, not having to pay sales tax from their purchases," Sieben said. "There'll be real, deliverable results that we'll see from this legislative session."

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dave Thompson
Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, speaks to the media on Tuesday, May 21, 2013.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

But Republicans are already asking questions about the cost.

Lawmakers approved about $2 billion in new taxes this session to increase spending on education, tax relief, nursing homes and to give tax breaks to corporations including 3M, the Mayo Clinic and Baxter.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said Minnesotans will think the state has simply gone too far.

"When this budget takes effect, it will be harder for every family and hard working taxpayer in this state to make ends meet, send their kids to college and prepare for retirement. That's overreach," Thompson said.

Overreach was the word of the day at the Capitol as Democrats and Republicans wrestled with the swing of the political pendulum since the DFL took control last year.

GOP leaders singled out the passage of a bill that would pave the way for unionization of child care workers and personal care assistants.

"This is a direction that hasn't happened before," Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said Tuesday in Moorhead.

House Speaker Paul Thissen
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, talked about the 2013 legislative session on Tuesday, May 21, 2013.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

"These aren't necessarily daycare workers. They're moms, and you know, they're small businesses. They're independent business owners that operate a daycare out of their home, and they own their own business. This is a move to unionize private business owners," Daudt said.

Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann said he thinks DFLers will pay a political price.

"They pushed through things like this because they have the votes to do it," Hann said. "There will be a push back when we get to the election next year."

It's an ironic echo of the DFL's reaction last session, after Republicans put two controversial constitutional amendments on the state ballot. One required picture ID for voters, the other banned same-sex marriage. Both measures failed and the GOP also lost its first legislative majority in 40 years.

But Republicans aren't taking any responsibility for opening the door to what they're now calling legislative excess.

"I can't say that I fault us for what's going on now," said Sen. Dave Thompson. "They're in charge."

DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen said Democrats were making up for the shortcomings of previous sessions.

"They're going to say we overreached. My response to that is to say for the last decade the state has underperformed," Thissen said.

Gov. Mark Dayton said this session reflects what voters were asking for three years ago. He cited new taxes on the state's top earners that he campaigned on but failed to get through the Republican-controlled Legislature of 2011-2012.

"A result of which is that we borrowed $1.5 billion from our schools and future last year to make up for that difference," Dayton said, adding that he campaigned on all-day kindergarten in 2010 as well.

Now, voters have 17 months and another legislative session to decide if this is what they were still asking for, and if Dayton deserves another term.

MPR reporter Dan Gunderson contributed to this report from Moorhead.