Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota legislature are engaged in an epic budget battle. By law, the budget for the coming biennium must balance. The governor demands big spending increases and tax increases to pay for them. Republican majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate resist spending increases that require tax increases. A state government shutdown is looming, despite the governor’s campaign promise not to shut down the state government in order to force tax increases.
The media coverage of the issues between the governor and the legislature has been pitiful. It has mostly served to amplify the Democratic message that Republicans are to blame for the standoff and possible shutdown. If you follow the coverage of the budget battle in the Star Tribune, it is exceedingly difficult to understand what is happening.
There is a dirty little secret at the heart of the budget battle. Governor Dayton not only wants a shutdown, he wants a shutdown that is as painful as possible. As the Star Tribune would lead readers to believe that responsibility for the shutdown should be allocated to Republicans, the Star Tribune is a critical component of the governor’s political calculations.
Yesterday the Star Tribune featured a story on wavering Republicans. Thanks to the coverage of the budget battle, the pressure on wavering Republicans must be great.
Not unreasonably, the Star Tribune turned to our friend King Banaian and a few other Republicans for a glimpse of the contending currents. King is a professor of economics at St. Cloud State University. He was swept into office in the mighty storm of the 2010 elections, winning his seat in the Minnesota House by 10 votes. The Star Tribune reports:
State Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, is facing intense pressure from all sides. He’s an economist with St. Cloud State University, a state-funded campus inching closer toward the uncertainty of shutdown. At the same time, Banaian has to be mindful that he beat his DFL rival by only 10 votes last fall. A painful shutdown could be a wicked detour to any re-election plans.
Banaian has opposed Dayton’s tax plan but didn’t slam the door on other forms of new money, like fees and surcharges.
First, the governor must make his case for why more revenue is necessary, Banaian said. If Dayton told him it would go for more K-12 funding, “that’s a much different conversation.”
Earlier this session, Banaian’s party didn’t embrace his proposal to build a science building at St. Cloud State. DFLers could slide that money into a new budget deal to appease Banaian’s constituents and perhaps soften the blow if he must defy his party leaders.
Banaian said he waits “with open ears” to future discussions.
I asked King if he would comment on the budget standoff for our readers. Here is state Rep. King Banaian, unfiltered, on the impasse. Reference to the “DFL” is to the state Democratic Party:
We were led to believe, after some early negotiations that led to great bills passing such as environmental permit reforms and alternative teacher certification, that the governor would work with us in passing a budget. Our bills went to conference committees before Passover/Easter break.
But the governor did not want to negotiate with conference committees. Indeed, we were slowed by his initial procedural requests for conference reports to be delivered with signatures, passed, but then returned if he did not like them. We had to explain this was not constitutional.
Then we reported out unsigned conference reports for him to review. We got no feedback.
We then went to pass them early in the week before our May 23 deadline, only to have the DFL caucuses “drop the plow” and use speaker after speaker to slow down passage of conference reports. (The GOP majority had removed the “gag rule” that limited debate on the floor of the House that the DFL had installed; this was how we were repaid for our generosity.) This meant all the bills did not arrive at the governor until a point where he could veto them after we adjourned.
The DFL dropped the plow again to frustrate the GOP Legacy funding bill, either to prevent even that spending or because the metro DFL caucus did not like the cut of the money. One very frustrating example: During the last week we met as a combined Senate-House GOP caucus with the governor. Our meeting lasted for an hour. While the meeting was in the process of wrapping up, Capitol reporters were already reporting a press release stating no agreement. (He did agree to meet with two committees the next day and did, but nothing came of those meetings.)
He has skipped meetings of negotiations. His commissioners are not empowered to negotiate. When one was asked recently for answers to some questions he was supposed to provide to a committee, the commissioner said he couldn’t, he was too busy planning for the shutdown. And of course we STILL don’t know where he wants to spend his tax increase. He wants to keep pressure from $3.7 billion of constituents when he offers to spend $1.8 billion.
An impartial observer might say that the governor is not negotiating in good faith. Why would that be? As I say, there is a dirty little secret at the heart of the budget battle. Good luck discovering what it is if you depend on the Star Tribune for your news.