Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk continued his criticism of Senate budget cuts that he says unfairly burdens Democrats and will force the minority to reduce a number of staff positions as a result.
Bakk also alleged that a vote taken earlier in the week was based in part on faulty information provided by Senate staff, in particular former Pawlenty administration official, and now Secretary of the Senate, Cal Ludeman.
In renewing his criticism Friday, Bakk signalled he doesn’t intend to let the issue go away quietly, and he publicly called on Majority Leader Dave Senjem to revisit the issue in a future hearing.
“This is a story about fairness, it is a story about honesty, and it is a story about an abuse of power that will impact the careers and lives of many people,” Bakk said. “The Republican majority’s actions set a terrible precedent for our institution and a terrible tone for the rest of this session.”
Bakks comments Friday echoed complaints DFLers lobbed at a Rules Committee hearing the first day of session, during which the budget was passed on a party-line vote. Republicans defended the budget as fair, noting that they reduced staff last session and contending that the end result left the minority-majority budgets at a similar level.
“This is truly inside ball,” Deputy Majority Leader Julianne Ortman said in response to Bakk’s comments, which she called “extreme.”
“We’ll continue to work with him,” Ortman added, saying she offered to sit down with Bakk and go over the numbers in person. “Hopefully we can cool it, calm down.”
In a letter that will be sent this afternoon, Bakk said he’ll formally ask Senjem, who serves as Rules Committee chairman, for a re-hearing of the budget, since he has questions about whether the information provided to members was, as he described it, incorrect because of a mistake, a lie or intentional manipulation.
And if Senjem refuses?
“Someday’s he going to hold a Rules Committee hearing,” Bakk said. “I’m not going to let this lie.”
At the heart of the issue is how the Senate will allocate a 5 percent budget reduction as a result of cost-cutting measures passed to fix last year’s budget deficit. Republicans say they’ve devised a fair plan that doesn’t unfairly target the minority.
The budget cuts about $444,000 from the Senate DFL caucus. It passed on a 7 to 4 party line vote in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday, over the objections of Democrats that called the move a dangerous precedent. The cuts are likely to lead to a loss of 12 to 14 Senate DFL staff jobs. The budget also eliminates committee pages during the 2012 and 2013 session, saving $250,000. It also saves about $180,000 through vacancies and voluntary leaves of absence.
Behind the numbers, though, is a sense of blatant partisanship and an attack on the minority and Senate staffers that has spoiled the atmosphere early this session. Leaders of both parties and in both chambers returned to the Capitol saying jobs were a No. 1 priority and talking about the possibility of a quick, in-and-out session. All sides looked to draw a contrast with the acrimony of last session that ultimately ended with a budget stalemate and historic government shutdown.
Republicans, for their part, reject the charge of partisanship out of hand. Ortman said it’s still possible the budget could be changed, and that she hopes to work on the issue with Bakk.
But DFLers are not so sanguine.
“On Tuesday, the first day of the legislative session, the Republican majority engaged in one of the most shameful actions I’ve ever seen at the Capitol,” Bakk declared Friday. “It was a partisan attack on the hard-working men and women who work to serve the people of Minnesota at the State Senate.”