Democrats Say They Are Ready To Control, Not Overreach

Meeting the press (Photo by David Oakes, Senate Media)

By Danielle Killey

Democrats will regain the majority in the Minnesota House and Senate and retain the governor’s office in the 2013 legislative session, but they said Monday they don’t plan to overreach.

“This is not going to be, as some fear and some hope, a sky’s-the-limit approach,” Gov. Mark Dayton said at a pre-session briefing for Minnesota reporters.

He said the focus should be on addressing the state’s projected $1.1 billion budget deficit.

Democrat leaders agreed the budget will restrict some of their actions.

“There’s going to be very little money to do anything new,” Senate Majority Leader-elect Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said. “People are going to have to restrain themselves some.”

House Minority Leader-elect Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he hopes the parties can focus on areas where they agree and on the budget.

“I think right now is not a time to look beyond solving our current problems,” he said. “We’re also keenly aware (Democrats) don’t need our votes to do what they want to do, with the exception of a bonding bill.”

Dayton and others have raised the prospect of a state public works borrowing bill in the 2013 sessions, funded by the state selling bonds, even though that typically happens on years opposite those focused on the budget. Lawmakers and Dayton must write a two-year budget next year.

Dayton and Senate Minority Leader-elect David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, did not agree on much Monday. But they did find common ground on a few issues, including holding off significant bonding discussions until after a February budget forecast.

By February, it should be clearer how the state is affected by federal budget decisions; right now the unresolved so-called “fiscal cliff” facing the country should President Barack Obama and Congress fail to come to a budget agreement clouds Minnesota’s financial outlook.

Dayton said he plans to come forward with a bonding bill in 2013, but he will “set that one on the back burner for now.” If nothing else, he said, a bonding bill is needed to continue state Capitol restoration work, but he also said he would include civic center projects in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud.

Other priorities for the session Democrats highlighted Monday include tax reform, job creation and improving education.

Hann said that the Republicans want to reform the tax system as well. Their aim is to make the state more appealing to businesses and help create jobs, he said.

If those goals are shared by Democrats, “I think they’re going to find willing partners,” Hann said.

“We certainly want to be at the table,” Daudt said of tax reform discussions.

But Hann said Republicans are less open to the idea of raising taxes on Minnesota’s wealthiest 2 percent. Dayton has said he likely will include that as a revenue source in his budget proposal, due in January.

“It’s really a decision whether the DFL wants to have bipartisan legislation,” Hann said.

House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said tax reform discussion needs to focus broadly on all areas, from property to income to sales taxes.

“It’s a choice among taxes about how we fund our government,” he said.

Democratic leaders acknowledged other DFLers likely will bring forward proposals on issues such as legalizing same-sex marriage, seeing an opportunity with Democrat control. Thissen said the fact that voters defeated an amendment to the state Constitution that would have outlawed same-sex marriage simply meant Minnesotans did not want to “stop the discussion cold.”

He, Bakk and Dayton would not commit to pushing through the proposal.