Minn. Democrats push new approach to budget woes

2:17 AM, Jan 9, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Democrats took control of the Minnesota Legislature Tuesday, after more than two decades of divided government at the State Capitol.

It's the first time since 1990 that the DFL has had the edge both chambers and held the Governor's office at the same time.

The new leadership vowed to tackle the $1.1 billion budget deficit projected for FY 2014-2015, but to usher in fiscal reforms designed to move away from the boom and bust cycle that has plagued the state's finances.

That could translate to higher taxes for some Minnesotans, something most lawmakers weren't willing to talk about directly during the largely ceremonial opening day of the 2013 session.

This February revenue forecast and Gov. Mark Dayton's budget blueprint will be the starting point. And House members, only two years away from their next election, weren't anxious to wade into a tax debate right off the bat.

"Our first focus is to be on the budget and that's where it's going to be," newly minted House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis told reporters.

"We'll certainly look at what the governor has sent of us and I anticipate we'll accept a lot of it. But you know the fact of the matter is all the folks in this body were elected by their constituents and we want to make sure they have the opportunity to participate in the process as they should."

Republicans said they'd like to work with Democrats on tax reforms that spur economic growth, or just make the system more user friendly for citizens. But raising income taxes on the wealthy, they assert, will prove very unpopular with Minnesotans.

"We've just seen the federal government do some things and many people are questioning the wisdom of that," Republican David Hann, the Senate Minority Leader told KARE.

"And to, on top of that, raise tax rates in the state of Minnesota? I'm not sure how that helps our economy get stronger. So, we'll see."

But longtime DFL Senator John Marty said he believes the people of Minnesota have grown weary of the one-time fixes that have been used in the past to balance the books, including delaying state aid payments to local school districts.

"I don't think it's a hard sales pitch. I think it's important to talk about responsible budgets," Sen. Marty told KARE.

"I think the voters would accept, and I think they would like us to talk like adults about taxes."

He pointed out that government spending in Minnesota, as a percentage of all the income generated in the state, has actually decreased in the past two decades.

"So the price of government, relative to the size of our economy, has gone done. I think the people of Minnesota can handle the discussion of how much it costs to provide government services, and the value of that."

Family Affair

Opening day always takes on the vibe of a class reunion. Politicians, lobbyists and citizens exchange handshakes and hugs. Lawmakers bring their families to watch them take the oath of office, and witness the election of new leaders.

Some of the new members will be seeing their relatives on a regular basis at the Capitol. Sen. John Hoffman of Champlin will be running his wife's sister, Rep. Yvonne Selcer of Minnetonka.

Selcer and Hoffman, both Democrats, were elected to the legislature for the first time in November. They can't agree on who decided to run first, but they're accustomed to having friendly disputes.

"My joke with John was always that I was chair of the Hopkins School Board and he was just vice chair of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board," Rep. Selcer told KARE.

"And I would say, 'Yes, Yvonne, you are. But Anoka is larger than Hopkins.' So we would always have this going joke about that," Sen. Hoffman remarked.

Yvette Hoffman, who is Sen. Hoffman's wife and Rep. Selcer's sister, found it all pretty amusing.

"It made for interesting conversations at family reunions and potluck dinners," Yvette laughed.

"I love them both. However, Yvonne French braided my hair when I was four years old, so I do kind of lean that way!"

One of the most memorable moments occurred at a ceremonial swearing-in for Sen. Foung Hawj of St. Paul. After posing for a photo with his immediate family, the freshman Democrat urged his extended family to join him.

Three dozen first and second generation Hmong immigrants crowded around Sen. Hawj, drawing scores of camera flashes from the media and well wishers.

"As you can see I brought diversity to the Capitol," Hawj told KARE, smiling.

"You know I'm very blessed and very thankful that Minnesota decided to include us here at the table."

The documentary filmmaker and videographer has served as a community volunteer, but is a relative novice in politics. He is replacing former Senator John Harrington in District 67, which was once Sen. Mee Mou's district on St. Paul's east side.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )

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