Legislature's GOP freshmen on the front lines of sessionby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Many of the newest Republican members of the Minnesota Legislature say they're unwilling to compromise with Gov. Mark Dayton over how to fix the state's $5 billion budget deficit.
More than half of the Republicans in the Minnesota Senate and nearly half of the Republicans in the Minnesota House are in their first term. With such large numbers, those members are poised to have a say in a final budget deal.
"If by compromise, you mean raise taxes, it won't happen," said first-year Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville, one of several Republicans to draw a line on taxes.
First-time Sen. Dan Hall of Burnsville agrees. He said the $34 billion the state has to spend over the next two years is enough, even though demand for services is projected to cost $39 billion.
"Everybody agrees that it's an awful year with awful things that we have to do, but we're spending a lot of money," Hall said. "We're not about to tax people any more, so I think we're settled in."
This year's freshman class is bigger and bolder than those in past legislative sessions. Perhaps it's the frustration of the economic downturn or the support that many received from tea party groups looking to cut government.
Some freshman, like Rep. Ernie Leidiger of Mayer want to go beyond the state-living-with-the-revenue-it-has philosophy and make even deeper spending reductions. He thinks health care programs and K-12 programs should both be cut.
Leidiger argued that Republicans are already compromising because the state will spend more over the next two years than it did during the current budget cycle.
"As far as I'm concerned, we've already compromised in terms of the upper limit of our spending," he said. "Any additional spending that we would do would be irresponsible for us to do so."
GOP LEADERS IN TIGHT SPOT
Comments like that put GOP legislative leaders in a bind. They know they need to negotiate a deal with Dayton, but they also have to get enough Republican support to pass the budget into law.
For now, Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said she wants to reach a deal with the governor, but she's not willing to go above $34 billion in state spending.
"The governor likes to say that I'm on the 20 and you're on the 20 and let's come to the 50-yard line," Koch said. "We came in on the 50-yard line with our budget proposal."
Not surprisingly, the governor disagrees.
"I keep pointing out to them that compromise means you agree to something," Dayton said. "Agreeing to something doesn't mean you agree with it."
Dayton said he's willing to negotiate with Republicans but isn't abandoning his income tax hike on top earners. He said voters may have elected a large number of Republicans to the Legislature — but they also elected him. And he reminds Republican leaders the voters knew where he stands on taxes.
"If they expect me to agree with them in in entirety in all $5 billion of their cuts, that's just not reasonable and rational position for them to be holding to," Dayton said.
But they are holding to that position for now. One new member, Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer, says many first-term lawmakers made a promise to their constituents and aren't too willing to move on taxes.
"That's where I'm at," he said. "Balancing the budget without raising taxes is what I campaigned on, why I got elected and what the people of my district expect from me."
Lawmakers return to the Capitol next week after a week-long break. They will have four weeks to reach a budget deal with Dayton before the constitutional deadline to adjourn.
- Morning Edition, 04/19/2011, 7:40 a.m.