By Danielle Killey
Republicans said Gov. Mark Dayton focused on a budget plan that costs too much and does not help create jobs during his third State of the State speech Wednesday night.
“Minnesota families are going to pay more, regardless of what he says,” Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said.
The Democratic governor promoted his plan to raise taxes on the richest Minnesotans and to lower the sales tax rate while broadening what is taxed. He has said only the top 2 percent highest earning Minnesotans would pay more, but Republicans think his plan would impact the middle class.
“This prescription of new taxes, taxes on everybody, is not warranted,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said. “We need to hold our spending in line with revenues.”
Many Republicans said they were concerned Dayton is taking up policy issues instead of focusing on the economy.
“The governor made it clear he wants to talk about same-sex marriage and about gun control,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said. “I’m afraid those issues will rise to the top and take away the focus from the budget.”
Republican leaders agreed with some of Dayton’s general priorities and that things are getting better in Minnesota.
“The governor mentioned the good things about Minnesota … and what he believes in, and I think those are things everyone wants,” Hamilton said. “The devil is in the details.”
He said the governor should give credit for the improvement to policies Republicans enacted when they controlled the Legislature for the last two years and not change course.
“We share the governor’s desire to set aside the status quo and take action to put our state on a path to long-term economic prosperity,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said.
Democrats said they like Dayton’s mix of new revenues and cuts to balance the budget, but no Democratic leader gave full support to the Dayton plan.
“Trying to cut our way to prosperity is a failed experiment,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said, agreeing with the governor.
Bakk said the governor’s budget puts the Legislature on the right path to long-term stability.
“We need to be concerned about the state of Minnesota in five or 10 years, not just the next election,” Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, said.
The governor once again said he is open to different proposals for the state’s budget and handed out his phone number during his speech.
Weber said while the governor has said he is flexible, Republicans have not seen as much willingness from Democrats in committees to accept changes.
“If bipartisanship means we have to travel all the way to the other side, that isn’t going to happen,” Weber said, though he said he thinks the two parties can find common ground.
Even Democrats do not fully back Dayton’s plan.
“I don’t agree with every detail of the governor’s budget, but I think the general direction is a good one,” Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said.
“I still have my concerns about items in the budget, such as his call for an expansion of the sales tax,” Lien said. “But he has laid out a road map for lawmakers to follow, even if we choose to diverge from it on some issues.”
Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, predicted that the Legislature’s budget would have more cuts and a more narrow approach to tax reform in the end.
“I think there’s a lot to rally behind,” he said. “It’s a starting point … and now we’re going to really start peeling the onion.”
Lawmakers noted an updated economic forecast later this month likely will change the plan and influence discussions going forward.
“The February (state budget) forecast will provide us with more clarity,” Schmit said.
“There will be revisions,” Eken said. “This is just a proposal and not the final product. But I think he put forth a good first proposal.”
Some rural Republicans were happy to hear Dayton list agriculture among his priorities, including funding for the Agriculture Growth, Research and Innovation Program.
“The governor said agriculture was a strong priority and I think the lawmakers from greater Minnesota do appreciate that,” Weber said.
“The last decade of cuts, gimmicks and no revenue has squeezed our middle class and has hurt our state’s changes for long-term prosperity,” Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, said.
“We know the status quo of deep cuts to the middle class and borrowing from our schools isn’t working, and we need to work together to set Minnesota up for a better future,” Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, said.
“For years, Minnesota has had budget deficit after budget deficit, and it’s going to take big changes to our tax system to fix those,” Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said.
Don Davis contributed to this story.