I ran for the Minnesota Senate to help make a positive difference in the lives of Minnesotans. I sought to use my private sector business experience to make government run better, cost less and help others more.
You will rarely hear me use the labels Democrat or Republican. I’m not in St. Paul to represent a political party; I’m here to represent the people.
Unfortunately, in the heat of partisan gridlock and frustration over the lagging budget progress, tempers have flared, political games have been played and rhetoric flew from both sides of the political aisle.
Minnesotans deserve more.
Minnesotans deserve facts — real numbers, real logic, and real positions without the emotional and empty hyperbole.
What I know is this: I’m disappointed that the Legislature and governor couldn’t come to a budget agreement before the May 23 deadline. We now have a special session on the horizon, and already we hear threats of a government shutdown.
I’m disappointed today because this could have been avoided. For more than six weeks, a budget from the Legislature was posted online, fully visible to the citizens and the governor. In the last week of session, a $34 billion balanced budget — the largest general fund budget in Minnesota history — sat on Gov. Dayton’s desk, yet he refused to sign or veto it. Our complete budget proposal was available to the governor for six weeks, and he refused to negotiate, sign or veto the bills and chose to instead let the clock run out on the 2011 session.
Our budget plan included $3 billion more in general fund dollars than the previous budget, amounting to spending growth of 6 percent. In a time of economic recession, we felt it reasonable to invest the extra money back into Minnesota but not ask for more than the 6 percent increase.
In addition to $3 billion more in revenues and real dollar increases in funding to education and Health and Human Services, we produced a budget that was full of 21st century reform ideas.
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, and I worked closely with Home and Community Options on Region 10 Quality Assurance, a reform idea that will result in long-term savings for the state and for organizations that provide support for people with disabilities.
Our education bill included equity and accountability reforms and initiatives, literacy aid, mandate relief and achievement-based teacher evaluation. Our state government bill included a “15x15” proposal to reduce the overall state workforce 15 percent by 2015 through early retirement incentives and attrition rather than layoffs.
The budget passed by the Legislature also includes many tax relief provisions. These include statewide property tax relief for middle income families, a phased-in military pension exemption, and reinstating an income tax reciprocity agreement with Wisconsin, a provision Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, and I worked on together.
Rather than embrace government growth limited to 6 percent and seeking new ways of doing business, Dayton chose to veto our budget bills out of his desire for even more government spending and higher taxes. This is the failed approach of maintaining the status quo and putting more money into more programs without asking questions and seeking a better way to operate.
Adopting Dayton’s plan of second-in-the-nation tax rates and 15 percent spending growth sends a signal to our job creators and entrepreneurs that Minnesota is an expensive, costly and unfriendly place to do business. The Minnesota Department of Revenue stated that half of the 45,500 tax filers who would pay a higher rate under the governor’s tax plan are small business owners.
The governor’s plan would directly impact more than 20,000 small businesses. We need to grow, not tax, our way to a better economy.
We believe that the best thing we can do is moderate government growth and create a reliable, stable business climate that attracts new investment and jobs. This session, we found that agreement with the governor on legislation to reform environmental permitting and create competitive workforce development grant programs for the unemployed and vulnerable. We hope he extends these areas of agreement to the overall budget as well.
I was elected to represent Senate District 31 by listening and working together with people of all backgrounds and political leanings. Although it is nearly impossible to make everyone happy, I strive every day to work toward solutions that will best represent the people in southeastern Minnesota. I look forward to continued work with District 31 citizens as we seek the structural change, spending accountability, and budgetary reform our state needs.