Sparks: Session may not end on time

Published 3:45 pm Saturday, May 21, 2011

By Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL—Austin

By the time you are reading this, the 2011 legislative session will be hours away from completion — it’s constitutionally mandated to end by midnight, May 23. Hopefully, by the time you are reading this there also will be a compromise between the Governor and the legislature on a solution for addressing the $5 billion budget deficit.

At this point, the Senate and House Republicans have agreed upon differences between their budget proposals and passed those bills to the Governor. However, they did so without taking any of the Governor’s input into consideration, and without any attempt to negotiate a compromise. The bills were passed knowing full well they are unlikely to be signed. It makes me nervous about the prospects of ending this session on time.

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On Monday, Governor Mark Dayton offered his second major compromise of the session. He’s been adamant that the state needs new revenue to responsibly balance the budget; Republicans have been adamant that they want to solve the deficit by cutting spending alone. The problem is, they haven’t been able to produce enough spending cuts to eliminate the $5 billion deficit. The bills passed to the Governor this week still don’t solve the entire problem.

In response, Gov. Dayton offered to cut his tax proposal in half. His new proposal would ask the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans to pay a little more in taxes — enough to ensure they are paying the same percentage of income in taxes as the rest of us are. To address the other half of the deficit, Gov. Dayton is willing to consider some of the deeper spending cuts that the Republicans have been pushing.

I applaud Gov. Dayton for being so willing to compromise. I was very disappointed that his offer was met with arms crossed; Republicans held a press conference about two hours after the announcement to uniformly state they won’t consider any proposal with new revenue, and that they’d forge ahead with their budget bills no matter what.

This isn’t leadership, and it certainly isn’t a responsible way to try to end the session on time and finish the work that Minnesotans sent us here to do.

It’s unfortunate that Republicans are unwilling to ask 2 percent of the richest Minnesotans — those making $300,000, $500,000 or even more than $1 million a year — to pay one dime more in taxes, but they are willing to ask every, single other resident of this state to pay higher property taxes. In the bills they passed this week, they also asked Austin Medical Center to take a $3 million cut; Albert Lea’s hospital would be cut by $1.65 million — that means higher costs for all of us who use those services. Rural transit, including the important services that many of our senior citizens rely upon, is decimated, and the state government budget cuts sends thousands of Minnesotans to the unemployment line. These cuts have been passed so that a few thousand wealthy people can be spared — it simply makes no sense.

It’s an unfortunate reality that every year, the legislature’s business comes down to the final days of session. But every year, each party reaches a point when they understand they have to start working together in order to get things done. That hasn’t happened this year. The Governor has offered many suggestions and has been fully engaged. Meanwhile, Republican leadership is stuck in cement, unwilling to back off of any of their proposals, even though those proposals are very damaging to the well-being of our state.

I have a track record of working across party lines and don’t enjoy pointing fingers. I understand you’d rather hear about what’s being done, not who’s to blame. I think it’s important, however, for Minnesotans to understand the importance of remaining engaged. The more people that contact Republican leadership in the House and Senate, asking them to get to work, the better chance we have of finishing this session on time and with a responsible budget solution.

If you have any questions or concerns about the remaining budget negotiations, please don’t hesitate to contact me at:; 651-296-9248; Room 19 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.