Shutdown Notebook: Blame For Rookies For Slow Progress

Koch, Zellers

Nearly everyone involved in budget negotiations is new to the process, providing a key reason why the budget impasse is going down to the wire.

“Each of the leaders in this struggle is new,” former Rep. Phil Krinkie said. “Dayton is a first-time governor with little or no executive leadership experience. Both Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers are new to their positions as well. A situation with three new leaders creates a level of uncertainty.”

On top of that, the 16-year veteran legislator said, is that a large number of legislators are new this year. Many of them hold strong conservative Tea Party-like viewpoints far removed from the liberal opinion of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

“This combination of new leaders, many new members and a massive budget deficit on top of a large divide in political philosophies inevitably is contributing to a reluctance to make quick decisions,” said Krinkie, who heads the new-new-taxes Taxpayers League.

While Republicans and a judge rejected Dayton’s call for a mediator to help write a budget, Krinkie presented an idea: “Former legislative leaders Roger Moe and Steve Sviggum have faced this situation numerous times and somehow both of them managed to survive politically while passing balanced budgets. It may not work, but it’s worth a try.”

 ‘Cone of silence’

Many legislators, lobbyists, reporters and others interested in state budget details are not hearing anything because of a “cone of silence” placed over budget negotiations.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, received credit for using the phrase about a decision not to discuss details of what is happening in the behind-closed-doors negotiations.

The 1960s television show “Get Smart” made the phrase popular. Spy Maxwell Smart would request the “cone of silence” to be lowered over him and his boss when they needed to discuss a sensitive issue.

But it never worked. The two could not even hear each other, in one episode resorting to holding up flash cards to communicate.

“Perhaps we could just talk softly, sir,” Smart said after the first episode’s “cone of silence” failure.

 Shutdown eve plans

Groups of all sorts plan to be at the Capitol Thursday, the eve of a potential partial government shutdown.

They range from welfare supporters to state employees.

State union workers and their allies plan to be on the front steps from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. They plan to describe services that would be lost in a shutdown.

If the workers have the final event of the day, an early one begins at 10 a.m. Thursday with a coalition of groups calling for higher taxes on the state’s richest residents. It is billed as a “fair revenue now demonstration.”

 Keeping nukes safe

An Xcel Energy spokeswoman says the utility is confident a government shutdown would not cause a nuclear power plant shutdown.

“We do not anticipate any impact to our nuclear plants,” Mary Sandok said. “Nonetheless, we will continue to monitor developments pertaining to a potential state shutdown and confer with state and federal officials about the status of these response operations.”

Xcel has nuclear plants at Red Wing and Monticello that depend in part on the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department for emergency aid.

Dayton’s recommendations to a court to keep some parts of state government operating in a shutdown included agencies that deal with the power plants.

‘No more taxes’

Leaders of a small-business group on Tuesday spoke out against Dayton’s proposal to raise taxes.

“The governor’s tax plan sends a very peculiar message to small business: If you are successful in Minnesota and grow your business and expand your workforce, you are going to pay,” said Mike Hickey of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Dayton’s plan would raise income taxes on the state’s highest earners, but owners sometimes pay their business taxes through individual tax returns even if they themselves are not consider high earners.