Political spin begins as 2013 session ends

Paul Thissen,  Gov. Mark Dayton
DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen, left, Gov. Mark Dayton, talk about the Minnesota state budget during a news conference last week.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders will shift from policy to politics today, now that the 2013 session is over. Dayton will hold a press conference this morning, while Republican lawmakers will travel the state to give their spin on the session.

One of those Republicans, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa, summed up events during the debate on the $2 billion tax bill.

"We had an election back in November. And yes, Minnesota, elections have consequences," he said. "That path that you were on, where Minnesota was living within its means, is coming to an abrupt halt."

But Democrats differ with Republicans over whether that path was the correct one. After 10 years of budget cutting and no new taxes, Democrats in November won control of every part of state government. They passed a $38.3 billion, two-year budget that increases funding for schools, nursing homes, jobs programs and property tax relief. They plan to pay for it by raising income taxes on top earners, raising cigarette taxes and with new taxes on businesses.

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DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen said Democrats made the bet that the tax hikes would be worth it.

"The tough votes that they had to take on things like taxes pay off on things like investments in education, job creation and property tax relief. Our folks are making that connection," he said.

Outnumbered Republicans were forced to sit on the sidelines throughout the budget debate. And nearly every chance they got, they warned that the tax hikes could dampen the state's economic recovery. Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann said those higher taxes will prompt businesses to cut jobs, wealthy Minnesotans to move and smokers to buy their cigarettes elsewhere.

"We're not the first state that has tried to do these things. There will be changes in behavior when you do these things. This is what is remarkable to me, we don't learn from the past," he said.

Since Democrats won control in the November election, Hann and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt have been saying the DFL majorities would overreach. Daudt said passing a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and a bill that allows at-home day care providers to vote on whether to join a union are just two examples.

"A lot of the policies that the Democrats passed are pretty unpopular with the electorate. We're going to make our case that there is a better way and there was a better way. I think you're going to see a pretty stark contrast," he said.

Dayton and every member of the Minnesota House is up for re-election in 2014. One of the Democrats expected to face a tough challenge is Rep. Joe Radinovich, of Crosby, who voted in favor of the same-sex marriage bill that was signed into law last week. His district supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in November, but he dismissed any talk of overreach.

"When you have been stuck in neutral for a decade, picking up any speed may look like overreach. But to a lot of people it looks like progress," Radinovich said.

The Legislature's dramatic shift from supporting a gay marriage ban in 2011 while under Republican control to legalizing same-sex marriage this year with DFL majorities may be the most notable aspect of the session.

"It's been life changing," said DFL Rep. Karen Clark, of Minneapolis, who sponsored the marriage bill in the House. "It's a turn of history and herstory that's very gratifying to me. I didn't know if it could happen in my lifetime." Republicans did beat back some DFL initiatives. A bill that would have strengthened the state's bullying laws in schools and a bill that would have increased the minimum wage never got final votes. And tougher gun control legislation was scrapped after fierce opposition from gun rights groups.

Republican Rep. Tony Cornish, of Vernon Center, worked hard to defeat the gun bill.

"What you should take away from this session is learning that the most dangerous thing in the world is not a criminal, because we can fight a criminal off at the door. The most dangerous thing is a politician who feels like they have to do something," he said.

Democrats pushed through plans that they say will help job growth, including state money to help Rochester handle a planned Mayo Clinic expansion, tax breaks for the second phase of the Mall of America, and subsidies to help a pharmaceutical company expand in Brooklyn Park.

Even with all the attention on gun control and gay marriage this year, it's likely jobs and the economy will still be the top issues in the 2014 election.