By Don Davis
Pay attention to the Minnesota state budget: There will be a test.
The test comes Nov. 4, 2014, the next general election. That is when voters decide whether to retain Democratic control of the House and governor’s office, or to give Republicans another chance. (Senate seats are not on the ballot until 2016.)
Signs are that the 2014 vote will be a contest between the Republican budget of the past two years and a newly enacted Democratic budget that ends in 2015.
“There is no doubt that next year’s election will be a referendum on the state budget,” DFL Chairman Ken Martin said.
In many ways, upcoming campaigns will sound a lot like what Minnesota voters have heard in recent years: Democrats touting added “investments,” spending on state programs, while Republicans promote lower taxes and reduced state spending. Two years ago, that debate featured Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled House and Senate failing to agree on a budget and sending the state into a three-week government shutdown.
Those same issues will be the arguments heard in the 2014 governor’s race, as well as most of the 134 state House contests.
“What we have done, it works,” proclaimed State Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, when discussing the state budget as he announced he is running for governor.
Republican governor candidates are lining up to try to knock off Dayton. And almost without exception, their main thrust has been promoting a budget Republicans mostly wrote two years ago, featuring static taxes and cuts in many areas.
On the other hand, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said Democrats fixed the state’s budget problems this year, problems he said Republicans created over years.
“Today, for the first time in a decade or more, our state’s budget is balanced without borrowing or gimmicks, and we did it without a special session or government shutdown,” the speaker said. “Any honest assessment of our state’s budget challenges would look at where we’ve been and where we are going now.”
Democrats will tout facts like getting rid of a $627 million budget deficit and spending more in education, job creation and property tax relief.
Republicans will claim to have produced a surplus after coming into office with a $6 billion deficit and that their tax policy led to businesses hiring more Minnesotans.
Recent polls have shown the public backs the DFL plan.
Dayton’s office listed budget accomplishments, starting with education, a topic that as a one-time teacher he long has said is key to the state’s success. Martin said the new all-day kindergarten program will be fresh on voters’ minds next year since it starts two months before the election.
GOP leaders say they are confident the Dayton-DFL budget will fail.
“We, of course, are not very optimistic,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said about the Democrats’ plan.
“Our budget outperformed expectations,” Hann added about the GOP’s previous spending plan.
The GOP budget favored businesses, with Hann and other Republicans saying that is the way to improve the Minnesota economy.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, claimed 31 percent of Minnesotans will pay higher taxes under the DFL budget, ranging from low-income people who are paying higher cigarette taxes to businesses that file income tax though individual returns at a newly enacted higher rate.
Democrats say added spending will help important Minnesota voters, the middle class.
“Budget measures passed this session provide for needed improvements in education, job creation and property tax relief that will benefit Minnesota families and businesses,” Dayton’s office reported as it outlined major new spending for the next two years.
Each side says its budget produces more jobs.
So the Nov. 4, 2014, test will revolve around which party voters think did the best for them financially. Voters, after all, often decision elections based on pocketbook issues.