Dayton and the illusion of compromise

Published 8:57 am Monday, March 21, 2011

Column: Phil Krinkie, Guest Column

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s recent signature on two pieces of legislation has yielded praise from the press and cheers from Republican lawmakers. The first of these two bills is one that provides alternative pathways to teacher licensure. This legislation caused a great deal of controversy during the 2010 legislative session; with Democrats in control of both legislative chambers they blocked its final passage.

Phil Krinkie

This year the Republican majorities in the House and Senate wasted little time in passing this reform bill. Gov. Dayton did get some minor compromises, but yielded to approve the final provisions of the legislation despite the objections of the teachers’ union.

The second of these two bills signed by the governor was House File 1, legislation that streamlines the environmental permitting process. The bill’s approval was considered by most to be pro-business and was opposed by some environmental organizations.

Gov. Dayton’s approval of these two pieces of legislation has been heralded by some that he is a great “compromiser.” A few have gone so far as to call Gov. Dayton, “pro-business.” Despite his signing of a couple of bills viewed by Republican lawmakers as “bold” reform action, there is little if anything to truly indicate Dayton is ready or willing to compromise on any significant legislation that the GOP House and Senate send to his desk.

Let’s first consider the reality of these two pieces of “reform” legislation as we contemplate whether Gov. Dayton is truly a “compromiser.”

The first bill touted as a “game changer” will allow highly qualified professionals, without a standard teaching license, to enter the classroom. This legislation is likely to change little or nothing in most classrooms for two reasons. First, school districts still have the final decision on who they will hire. In districts with strong union influence on the local school board, there is likely to be no change. Secondly, the process for alternative teacher licensure is controlled by the State Board of Teaching, whose members are appointed by the governor. After the legislation passed, one suburban school district superintendent said: “I don’t think this bill will have any impact at all.”

The second bill that was praised for being a compromise by Gov. Dayton requires the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency to issue or deny environmental and resource management permits within 150 days of an application. This legislation also provides little substantive change.

First, the 150-day clock doesn’t start until the agency considers the application to be complete. Secondly, according to a recent report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the PCA issues 93 percent of its permits for private sector projects within the 150-day time frame already. The “pro-business” governor truly moved the goal posts by signing this legislation.

To illustrate where Gov. Dayton is not about to compromise consider the first budget balancing bill that the Legislature passed in February to slice about a billion dollars off the deficit. Upon receipt of the bill, Dayton quickly vetoed the bill and stated his rationale that it would raise property taxes. There was no inkle by Dayton that he wanted to work with the Republican majorities on any amendments to this budget balancing action.

Another sign of Dayton’s entrenched views could be seen at a recent labor union rally in the Capitol rotunda. Before hundreds of chanting union workers Dayton proclaimed that any reform measures like the ones proposed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker would never get past his desk. So much for government reform or innovations that could reduce the state workforce, or seeking budget solutions that might involve a state workforce salary or benefit freeze.

No, Gov. Dayton has not given any indication that there are any real alternatives or reforms acceptable to him, other than double digit government spending growth. His solution to pay for this double-digit spending growth remains the same, confiscating even greater amounts of money from the state’s top wage earners.

In his inaugural speech, Dayton called for teamwork and working together to solve the state’s budget and then defined the No. 1 problem as the rich not paying their fair share. His attack on Minnesota’s job creators was made clear by Dayton with his recent budget proposal, which included a fourth tier for Minnesota’s income tax at 10.95 percent. His proposed top-tier income tax would be the second highest rate in the country, only five-tenths below Hawaii’s 11 percent rate. (Has anyone noticed our weather pattern lately isn’t like Hawaii’s?)

As someone who has had little experience with holding a private sector job, Gov. Dayton finds it easy to attack the job creators as the ones who don’t pay their “fair share.” Dayton must have missed the fact that he pays less in state income taxes as a percentage than someone who has earned income instead of payments from a trust fund.

Dayton’s new top tax rate is expected to bring in another $1.9 billion to propel state spending up by 22 percent over the next two years. Based on his first two months in office it appears Gov. Dayton should more appropriately be called the great confiscator, rather than the great compromiser.

Phil Krinkie, a former eight-term Republican state rep from Lino Lakes who chaired the House Tax Committee for a while, is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. You can contact him at: philk@taxpayersleague.org.