Democrats take the state's helm in 2013

Dayton two fingers
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton holds aloft two fingers indicating that any tax proposal coming from him will be targeted to the upper two percent of wage earners.

By T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

This legislative session will be study in bulldozer politics.

Within the bounds of the state constitution, Democrats can accomplish virtually anything they want.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton can watch the State Capitol fill for the new session on Jan. 8, knowing his party controls the House and Senate.

Actually, the DFL grip on power is more sweeping, with Democrats holding all of the state constitutional offices.

Republicans, who lost control of the statehouse on Nov. 6, admit Democrats basically have a free hand to run state government.

It really comes down to whether Democrats want bipartisan bills, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said.

“So we’ll find out shortly, I’m sure, whether that interest in bipartisan legislation is going to be there,” he said.

Democrats insist they want to reach across the aisle — there’s common ground, such as  with tax reform, they say.

“I’ve always had an open door,” said House Majority Leader-designate Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.

And the door is staying open, she said.

Legislators don’t have a choice in acting bipartisanly, Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, believes.

“They (voters) demand we work together,” she said.

That was a lesson of the election.

But the hard reality for Republicans is that Democrats can raise taxes, set budgets, pass same-sex marriage legislation without a single Republican vote.

Deep in the minority in House and Senate, the Republicans’ sole brake on Democratic ambitions is the bonding bill, the list of coveted projects that require a super majority to pass.

Senate Democrats need to convince at least two Senate Republicans to join them in order to pass a bonding bill. In the House, Democrats must scrounge up eight Republican votes to reach the 81-vote threshold.

This may not be easy, because Republicans view the bonding bill as leverage on other things.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, predicts Senate Republicans will hang tight on bonding.

Other Republicans agree.

“We have to be awful careful how we play that card,” Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said.

Lawmakers returning for two-year (2013-14) session confront a tamer state budget than in recent years.

While a $1 billion budget deficit is projected, rosier than anticipated revenues for this spending cycle allowed a buy-down of the school-aid shift.

The $2.4 billion shift was halved, with a little over a $1 billion remaining to pay back the money borrowed from schools.

Even so, state officials warn that inaction in Washington on the so-called federal fiscal cliff could damage the state budget and sow a recession.

Officials were so alarmed about this they crafted two separate state budget forecasts, the darker version reflecting a Washington meltdown.

For his part, Dayton insists the era of setting the state budget through the use of “gimmicks” like school shifts is over.

For the full story, see the Thursday, Jan. 3 print edition of the Times.