Day One begins
ST. PAUL — This week ushers in a new era in Minnesota politics as a Democrat retakes the governor's office after a 20-year absence and Republicans control the House and Senate for the first time in 38 years.
Gov.-elect Mark Dayton is slated to be sworn in at noon today in a public ceremony at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. On Tuesday, lawmakers return to the state Capitol as the 2011 legislative session kicks off.
The to-do list for the new governor and legislators is daunting. It includes trying to revive a sluggish economy while solving a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit. Incoming Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said Republicans will be focused on creating jobs.
"I do know our legislative agenda is going to be strongly focused on jobs and the economy and that will be the thing on which we weigh almost everything that we do," Senjem said.
That will include a push to reduce the corporate income tax, streamlining the business permitting process and getting rid of some government mandates.
Local Democrats also say they are focused on job creation as well — although they have different ideas about the best way to do that. Dayton has said he plans to bring forward his proposal for a $1 billion construction borrowing bill this year to help create jobs. Republicans have said for them to support any kind of a bonding bill, it would have to be much smaller and limited to public infrastructure projects. But Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said she strongly believes a bonding bill would give the state's economy a much-needed boost.
"I definitely think we should have a bonding bill because I am of the school that believes in a recession government can jump-start things by spending money and this is the way that state government can do that," Liebling said.
Budget deficit solutions
Differences between the two parties also emerge when it comes to solving the state's budget crisis. Republican lawmakers say the focus has to be on cutting spending and they are not open to any tax increases to balance the budget.
"We need to bring government to live within the means of the people and to bring about an environment that will foster job growth in Minnesota and that means reducing oppressive taxation and ending excessive and unnecessary regulations and mandates," said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.
Democrats are skeptical that the budget can be balanced entirely through cuts without causing significant harm to the disabled, elderly and schools. Dayton campaigned on the idea of raising income taxes on wealthier Minnesotans to help plug the budget hole — something GOP leaders say they will not support.
Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said that while it is good for the legislature to be focused on creating jobs the reality is that will not bring in new revenue in the short-term to solve the state's budget crisis. Ultimately, she said she believes some type of revenue will be needed to solve the state's financial woes.
"We're not going to turn this on a dime," she said. "We've got to try and figure out what is our threshold of pain that citizens are willing to accept and what is our threshold of doing without or limiting services or no longer providing programs."