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Disappointing

Barring something unforseen at this point, Minnesota’s state government is heading for a shutdown tomorrow.  While politicians in St. Paul point fingers, Minnesotans are going to pay the price.  Let’s talk about three reasons we are in this position.

1.  Politics ain’t beanbag.  But it shouldn’t be a game of chicken, either.  Let’s fact it:  both Governor Dayton and the Republican legislative majorities started with budget proposals that they knew were completely unacceptable to the other side.  There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself.  That’s all part of the political dance that is ultimately required to get to a conclusion here.  The problem has been the lack of movement (more so on one side than the other) since then. 

The Republican legislative majorities — despite their claims of compromise — haven’t moved their spending targets in total since their first budget proposal in March.  Yes, they’ve shuffled dollars from one department to another, but haven’t offered any sort of compromise on the revenue issue. After passing their first round of budget bills in April, they dithered for over a month reconciling minor differences in conference committee before passing their final budget in the last week of the session.  What did they use that month for?  Distractions like voter ID and the gay marriage amendment.

Gov. Dayton has substantially altered his plan — tilting his fix from two-thirds tax increases to two-thirds spending cuts — but did not detail the spending side of his most recent $35.8 billion proposal.  Additionally, although he has signalled openness to other revenue options other than his income tax increase on the top 2% of earners, he has not publically specified the sorts of proposals he would be willing to entertain as alternatives.

Collectively, we’ve seen the positions of the two sides publicly harden the closer we’ve gotten to the shutdown when it should be moving the other way (although, privately, there are some signs of progress). 

2.  Newbie alert.  Gov. Dayton and legislative leaders Sen. Amy Koch and Rep. Kurt Zellers are all new in their positions.  The Republican legislative majorities are filled with freshmen who ran on their version of “fiscal responsibility”.  All want to put a “win” on the board early in their terms, and that limits their willingness to come to a reasonable compromise.

3.  Somebody doesn’t know how to count.  Compounding the problems the two sides have had from a purely ideological basis has been the inability of the two sides to agree on the base numbers.  From the Republican insistence early on to use their own numbers instead of the usual fiscal notes to the continual usage of incorrect base spending numbers for the 2010-11 biennium, it’s been a remarkable display of trying to force facts to fit into a political box.  If you can’t agree on basic underlying data, it’s going to be hard to agree on the decisions you make based on that data.

Let’s hope that both sides can finally begin to work together and give Minnesota the moderate compromise that voters demand and deserve.  GOP leaders need to accept some forms of new revenue, and Gov. Dayton will likely have to take on some additional budget cuts.  A budget in the $35 billion range is achieveable and would represent a good-faith compromise.

The collateral damage of a shutdown — from laid-off employees to closed state parks — shouldn’t be inflicted on the people because the political class has failed us.

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