Budget Debate Turns Into Campaign Debate

Minnesota lawmakers from both parties signal they plan to use last year’s rough budget debate as foundation for this year’s legislative election campaigns.

With all 201 legislative seats up for election, Minnesotans will hear a lot about state spending. And the two sides will spin the budget outcome.

House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, appears eager to bring up the issue. He called the two-year budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton a “beg and borrow, property-tax-raising budget.”

Republicans took a good deal of the credit for a slight state budget surplus announced Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said the budget reflects state government reforms the Republican Legislature enacted a year ago. He said Republicans are “absolutely happy” with a budget report released Wednesday showing a $323 million surplus.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, added together a projected surplus from three months ago to the one announced Wednesday to come up with a $1.2 billion surplus.

Last year’s budget deal, ending a 20-day state government shutdown and filling a $5 billion budget hole, was one that no one liked. But Republican leaders and Dayton said that was the best deal they could reach.

Thissen made it obvious that he plans to tack a sign on the back of Republican candidates blaming them for the ugly politics of last year. He called it a “shutdown budget.”

And to drive home the point that Republicans ran the Legislature when the government closed, Thissen is talking about GOP-written bills that legislative committees are considering to allow government to remain operating if there is another budget stalemate.