Dayton defends budget

by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor

It is agreed that we all want honesty in government. Whether we achieve that with all of our elected officials is subject to judgment.

Gov. Mark Dayton is carrying that honesty banner these days when defending his 2014-15 budget that totals $38 billion. At this juncture, Dayton said, “I wouldn’t vote for my budget myself except that what’s the better alternative.”

Dayton’s budget, although very controversial, attempts to eliminate a $1.1 billion deficit and it also looks at ways to capture revenues that will allow the state to invest in education and in Minnesota.

Dayton met with the ECM Editorial Board and ECM/Sun editors this week to talk budget and to show that he is comfortable with his proposal but, all too well, knows that it will not be a cakewalk to get his budget passed. Even those legislators of his political persuasion are not lining up behind Dayton.

It’s been a week since Dayton introduced his budget for the next biennium. He was sked if he would do anything differently with the budget after reading and hearing many different reactions. He responds to the question with a quick “no.” He says there is “no way” to make a budget look good when facing a $1.1 billion deficit and having to pay back $1.6 billion in school funds used in a shift to balance the last budget.

“It’s easy to pick it apart, but I think you have to look at the whole package,” Dayton said. In defending his budget the last several days, Dayton has put together his own package of cliches and one-liners to describe the budget.

• What is your alternative?
• I don’t relish increasing anyone’s taxes.
• There’s no get-out-of-jail-free card.
• We can’t leave it at the status quo.
• There’s no easy way out of this.
• Nobody wants to pay taxes.
• With this budget, there are no games, no gimmicks and no fiction.
• I don’t agree with myself all the time but I agree with the process.
• Give me a better idea.
• We don’t have an equitable tax system now.

This governor is definitely not shying away from criticism and almost welcomes it. He also recognizes that many businesses and industries including the newspaper industry are unhappy with his placement of sales tax on business  services. Placing a sales tax on clothing also goes against Dayton’s grain. “Shopping put me through high school and college,” he admitted, referring to his family’s ownership of the old Dayton’s department store company.

Businesses, industries and families are all treated the same in Dayton’s sales tax proposal, he said. He said he didn’t know how to differentiate between those who can afford to pay taxes and those who can’t

It is quite clear that Dayton enjoys his job, is willing to listen but convinced that he is on the right track with his budget. During his session with the ECM Editorial Board, he even grabbed his notebook and took notes.

The ECM Editorial Board moved from discussion of the budget to discussion on school safety, a bonding bill, feedback to Dayton’s performance and his own health.

Safety of state citizens is paramount, Dayton said. He said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman have teamed up to implement a plan. “Unfortunately, it takes one crazy, with an element of surprise” to cause mass deaths and injuries, Dayton said.

Dayton believes there will be a bonding bill but said it will not be crystallized until the Feb. 28 forecast comes out. He estimated that the bonding bill will be in the $500 million to $600 million range.

Dayton encouraged constituents to share their opinions with him via the governor’s website and Facebook. Dayton’s press secretary, Katharine Tinucci, said the governor’s office received 50 responses on the budget, 35 favoring it and 15 opposed to it. One person opposed the snowbird tax. New gun control action was opposed by 3,325 responses.

Asked about his health after back surgery, Dayton said he has no pain and is using a modified Adrian Peterson rehab program. He said the only time he has come to matching All-Day Adrian’s nickname was when he was timed on a mile run.

Howard Lestrud is at [email protected]