by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
It’s been two days since Gov. Mark Dayton released his budget for the 2014-15 biennium and reactions to this bold package are coming from all points of the planet.
The latest hostility shown to Dayton’s tax and invest plan came Thursday afternoon from Minnesota Newspaper Association (MNA) conventioners at their 146th annual convention at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington.
Dayton offered prepared remarks on his budget proposal at a noon luncheon, saying he would answer questions following. He joked about answering questions on his budget, saying he might use up the question and answer time during his prepared speech.
Major concern was shown in the bulk of the questions framed by members of the MNA. Most were directed toward the proposed placement of sales tax on services, including newspaper subscriptions and newspaper advertising.
Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, says the proposal could result in a newspaper being taxed three different times. He said a tax on advertising will hurt small town businesses. He said newspapers are a large part of our democracy and thus should not be taxed.
Gov. Dayton replied that if taxes on services were removed from his proposal, “we would basically be back to where we were before.” Dayton said the question now is what is bad with his plan and what is a better alternative. He said the sales tax plan broadens the base and reduces the sales tax rate from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent.
In his plan, Dayton is also talking about taxing the top 2 percent of wage earners with a fourth tax bracket. He said 98 percent of Minnesotans will not be touched by his proposal. He is also offering a property tax rebate of $500. Dayton said he was elected governor and other legislators were elected because the public wanted a balanced approach in financing government.
Tom West, editor and general manager of the Morrison County Record in Little Falls, said he could not rationalize why the governor proposes taxing something that “you will then get less of,” state and local government news coverage. “We believe we are the only local news gatherer out there, the print media,” said West.
Again, Dayton asked for alternatives and said he didn’t think it’s a good idea to tax anybody. “Our kids and grandkids have a stake in this,” said Dayton, adding that he will be asked by many whether Social Security will be there when he retires. “It depends, but I believe we will make it,” he added.
While most of Dayton’s speech and the questions that followed addressed his budget proposal, other questions from the floor centered on transit and on gun control. In reacting to the latter question on legislating gun control laws, Dayton said,” That’s a tough one.” He emphasized, “We all want to reduce gun violence.” He pointed out that he met yesterday with Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom to share information on gun violence.
Many Minnesotans support the Second Amendment as Dayton says he does. “For every complex question, there’s always a simple answer and almost always it’s the wrong one.”
In opening his remarks to the MNA, the state’s 40th governor said many people have asked about his back following surgery last month. “My back is back and I’m on the Adrian Peterson rehab program,” Dayton joked. “My gait is restrained but my gaze is unrestrained.”
During his recovery from surgery, Dayton said he prayed for a big blizzard like he enjoyed when he was a kid. When the blizzard did not come, he said he decided “to concoct” a political blizzard of his own. That political blizzard came in the form of a budget proposal for 2014-15.
A $1.1 billion deficit is wiped out by Dayton’s proposed budget. To balance the budget, the state had to raise taxes, reduce spending, or do both.
With new taxes and reduced spending, Dayton said he could keep a pledge of investing in education. He spoke of higher education cuts last year. The budget proposal allocated 240 million new dollars to higher education. These investments will prevent tuition increases, he said
Dayton said education is absolutely crucial to better job opportunities, higher incomes and more fulfilling lives for all Minnesotans, for their children and grandchildren in the future.
“We have to put our money where our beliefs are,” Dayton said.
The education commitment under the budget proposal will result in $300 million funding next biennium. All-day kindergarten is proposed for all Minnesota’s children and more support for special education is sought. Education helps attract new business and create new jobs, Dayton said.
“Some say we spend too much and some we don’t spend enough,” Dayton said The other question is how to pay for these investments. He then outlined his plan to increase revenues. Reducing spending is a “hard part,” and tax reform is also a difficult challenge.
As he often does, Dayton offered accessibility to him by the media by answering more questions in the corner of the banquet hall. Asked if he were surprised by legislative fallout including some negative reaction from his own party, Dayton said he was not surprised. “Everybody supports change as long as it doesn’t happen to them and I always ask them what there alternative is,” Dayton said.