Party chairs take off the gloves in war of words over budget stalemateby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The war of words over the best way to balance Minnesota's budget continues, but it isn't between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers.
Instead, the Republican and Democratic Party chairs are criticizing each other. The tit-for-tat started when Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton dusted off some 2010 campaign rhetoric to criticize Dayton.
Sutton said any government shutdown should be pinned on Dayton, a DFLer. He also resorted to 2010 campaign talking points to suggest Dayton isn't capable of leading the state.
"It's an easy to thing to do to laugh off the connection between Mark Dayton closing his U.S. Senate office when things got dicey, and his willingness -- even eagerness -- to shut down state government over tough budget negotiations," Sutton said. "The governor's history of taking a time out when things get tough is well documented."
Party leaders are often willing to use sharper rhetoric than elected officials, and Sutton didn't hold back. He called Dayton erratic and said his politics are Machiavellian.
Sutton brought up the governor's "privileged life" as an heir to the Dayton Hudson department store fortune, saying Dayton never had to work a day in his life.
Sutton's comments prompted an angry reaction from DFL Party Chair Ken Martin. He said Sutton and Deputy Republican Party Chair Michael Brodkorb were resorting to "character assassination."
"We're going closer to a government shutdown, and each day that we go on and this type rhetoric exists is one less day that we have to come to a solution," Martin said. "It doesn't get us any closer. In fact, it creates a bigger divide."
It's hard to imagine the divide getting much bigger. The GOP started a new website blaming Dayton for a shutdown, while the labor-backed group Alliance for a Better Minnesota is running TV ads urging people to reject the GOP budget.
The two sides couldn't reach a budget deal during the legislative session. Dayton will have to call lawmakers back for a special session before July 1 to avoid a state government shutdown.
Dayton, DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk made four stops across the state Thursday to highlight their differences with the Republican majority in the Legislature. Before he stepped on a plane at the St. Paul airport, Dayton said the impasse will be broken only when the public weighs in.
"After my experience the last couple of weeks, offering a compromise, coming halfway and being totally rejected by Republicans who say they won't budget a dollar -- it will take the people of Minnesota telling those legislators that we want a reasonable compromise."
Dayton wants a mix of spending cuts and higher income taxes on Minnesota's top earners to help erase the $5 billion projected budget deficit. Republicans say they can erase the deficit through spending cuts alone. Neither side has moved off their position since Dayton scaled back his income tax hike last week.
Since then, Republicans have said Dayton refuses to negotiate the particulars of the budget he eventually vetoed. Dayton shot back that many GOP members of the House and Senate are extremists who don't know how government works.
"When you call someone an extremist, when you say that a $34 billion budget is barbaric, you certainly aren't positioning yourself for negotiations," Sutton said.
- All Things Considered, 05/26/2011, 5:24 p.m.