Editorial: Majority must keep Minnesota competitive

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It’s been our approach on these pages to favor divided government.

Minnesotans have decided otherwise this year, giving Democrats control of both houses of the state Legislature, along with the governor’s office, for the first time in 22 years.

Two years ago, we welcomed the give and take that would be required between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and a Republican Legislature, reasoning that the check on too much power in the hands of one party was prudent and that the hard work required to produce agreements would ultimately make them stronger.

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For confirmation, we needed to look no further than Wisconsin, where months of strife played out with Republicans in control, Democrats in hiding and the governor surviving a costly recall battle.

Divided government here at home, though, brought us a 20-day government shutdown, political maneuvering that placed two divisive constitutional amendments on the ballot, liberal use of the governor’s veto pen and little progress on Minnesota’s long-term structural budget problems.

With mounting pressure to relieve the state’s repeated deficit-surplus cycles, the work ahead is daunting — even more so with dramatic demographic changes ahead as baby boomers age and place an increasing strain on state and local resources.

Democratic leaders have wisely said that the budget will be the priority.

“I think that anybody who has policy ideas needs to find a way to put them on the back shelf right now. This state has serious financial challenges,” Senate Majority Leader-elect Tom Bakk said at a news conference last week.

A new state economic forecast is due in December. Dayton, who campaigned on a promise to make the wealthiest Minnesotans pay their “fair share” of taxes, has said he plans to propose a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s tax system in January.

He may, however, have trouble selling tax increases to new DFL lawmakers, most of whom appear to be pro-business fiscal moderates from suburban and rural districts, the Pioneer Press’ Bill Salisbury reported.

All lawmakers must focus on competitiveness as they face pressure to raise taxes, increase government spending and add new regulations.

The state’s business interests are rightly concerned. “We have our work cut out for us,” the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce declared this week in an email to members. “We are going to have to work harder than ever to let legislators and the governor know the potential impacts of their decisions on private-sector job-providers.” The organization is urging members to invite legislators to tour their businesses and meet their employees before the session begins Jan. 8.

Safeguarding the state’s ability to compete is uppermost for business advocates. “We can’t see how a tax increase will help us be more competitive,” the chamber’s Bill Blazar told us, outlining a suggested approach that “marries tax reform and spending reform.”

Both are needed, and it will take strong will for an unfettered majority to avoid the overreach that would be its undoing two years hence.

— St. Paul Pioneer Press, Nov. 10

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