Analysis: Budget deal kicks can, parties kick each other
"Kicking the can down the road" is one of the most over-used phrases around the Minnesota Capitol, but it certainly applies to the budget deal cooked up by Republicans and accepted, in a modified form, by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
The $1.4 billion in new revenue included in the plan does not come from higher taxes on the rich as Dayton wanted, but from a Republican plan offered June 30. It delays $700 million of state payments to schools, when added to an earlier delay means schools will get 40 percent of their state money late. It also borrows against $700 million of payments due after the state won a tobacco lawsuit.
The state must repay both of those items, meaning $1.4 billion being spent in the current two-year budget (that tops $35 billion) will come out of Minnesotans' pockets in future years.
Dayton said he did not want to borrow money to increase spending, but realized that after a five-month legislative session, a month more negotiations and two weeks of a government shutdown that Republicans would refuse to raise taxes to support what he considers important programs like health care and special education.
"Core borrowing is not a responsible way to finance state government," Dayton said on Minnesota Public Radio.
Republicans agreed that the borrowing solution is not ideal.
"It's not a perfect scenario, but we are in an imperfect situation here," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.
No one likes the budget deal, but who gets blamed for kicking the can down the road one more time? Time will tell, but Democrats and Republicans will blame each other in what could be more heated election campaigns next year than last year's campaigns that put Republicans in control of the full Legislature for the first time in nearly four decades.
Early indications are that Dayton may come out looking better than Republicans because the governor could get credit for ending the government shutdown.
Blois Olson, who writes the Morning Take political tip sheet, opined that Minnesotans may see Dayton's action as not political.
"Everyone started to look for what Dayton's strategy was or what adept political calculus he was making," Olson wrote. "It wasn't either. Dayton shouldn't surprise people with moves like Thursday any more. ... He wears his ideas on his sleeve. Rarely is there any deep political calculus, but rather a gut about what can and should be done."
Dayton said that he decided to dust off the GOP's 2-week-old offer because the message he heard after visiting three communities outside the Twin Cities was to end the government shutdown however he could.
"The gut on Thursday will cost him support from DFLers, but is likely to elevate him in the minds of most Minnesotans," Olson wrote.
Certainly, Dayton will take hits from fellow DFLers. But, to be fair, he has not been the most popular member of the party. Remember, he refused to abide by the party convention's endorsement last year, eventually winning the DFL nomination in a primary election.
On Thursday, Democratic-Farmer-Laborites immediately began calling the budget agreement a Republican plan.
"I will not be putting MN's budget on a credit card," Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, tweeted. "When I ran on fiscal responsibility, I meant it."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, told a statewide radio audience the deal centered on "a Republican borrowing plan" that he cannot support.
While Bakk, Melin and most in their party criticized the plan, Democrats praised Dayton for using it to end a government shutdown that began July 1.
Since Dayton will not stand for election until 2014, if he decides to run again, the political impact could fall on legislative incumbents since each of the 201 seats is up for election in 2012.
Whatever comes from the budget deal, one thing is clear: Minnesota politics will remain divisive. Nothing in the agreement will inspire a kumbaya atmosphere in the Capitol.
Olson wrote that Republicans "aren't going to stop attacking" Dayton and he will continue going after GOP ideas. "The conclusion is that the budget may get done, but the tone of politics ... won't change; in fact, it could get worse."
So a government shutdown will do nothing to shut down political bickering.