Shutdown-ending deal better than raising taxes, legislators say

by John Gessner and Jessica Harper
Thisweek Newspapers

State Rep. Pam Myhra of Burnsville isn’t thrilled with the budget deal that ended Minnesota’s 20-day government shutdown.

But the deal, which ended the impasse between the Republican legislative majorities and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton with $1.4 billion in one-time borrowing over the next biennium, is the result of two sides on a collision course, according to Myhra.

“The governor vowed he would not sign any of our budget bills unless there were tax revenue increases,” said Myhra, a freshman Republican representing House District 40A. “Our GOP Legislature said we have been sent by our constituents to hold down taxes. Those are diametrically opposed views.

“I am very thankful that we were able to come to resolution. When you have diametrically opposed views and you can negotiate a final solution like this, I think it’s a win.”

Others in the all-Republican, all-freshman class of legislators from Burnsville and Eagan agreed that not raising taxes was of chief importance.

“This deal is great for job creators. This helps remove some of that uncertainty,” said District 38 Sen. Ted Daley of Eagan, who said Dayton’s tax-the-rich plan “would have made us the number two in the nation for taxes.”

District 38B Rep. Doug Wardlow said it would be “counterproductive to raise taxes,” and the budget deal “was the price we had to pay”to stop tax hikes.

“I think we had to end the shutdown,” Wardlow said. “Business were hurting, employees were out of work and we had to get up and running.”

Despite criticism of the borrowing – an additional delay of $700 million in K-12 school funding and the sale of $640 million in bonds to be repaid from the state tobacco settlement – Wardlow said the one-time measures are better than raising taxes “because we have too much government already.”

Myhra noted that the budget includes $50 in per-pupil funding so school districts can cover the cost of short-term borrowing to fund operations.

“The shift is repugnant, but it was the resolution,” Myhra said.

Said Daley, “I’ve talked to superintendents, principals, teachers and parents from across the state, and they said if they had the choice between cutting funding or delaying it, they would rather delay it.”

With the deal in place and government back to work, Daley and Wardlow called for extensive reforms in social services, health care and education.

The new budget will bend the cost curve on health and human services, which was poised to grow by 22 percent over the biennium but will now grow by only 11 percent, Myhra said.

She praised the future phase-out of the 2 percent medical provider tax and new restrictions to prevent abuses in the use of electronic welfare cards.

A member of the House education reform and finance committees, Myhra also said she’s pleased that part of one of her initiatives survived. New law requires annual evaluations of students’ reading levels in grades kindergarten through three and intervention in those early grades, Myhra said. It includes teacher training in effective reading methods, she said.

Her original literacy bill called for holding back third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level.