Editor’s note: Welcome to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with a rotating cast of legal and political people in the know. Answers are edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Question 1: Minnesota’s new budget forecast projects a $1.65 billion surplus based on improved consumer confidence, which officials think could flow from future Trump administration tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Could Trump be a boon for Minnesota’s economy?
Peter Bell, conservative think tank fellow: I think the tax cuts and the deregulatory efforts that he has talked about provide some level of promise. But I think that is counterbalanced by some of the insecurity and, frankly, the erratic behavior that he has engaged in with his administration — most recently with his attorney general. That, I think, can cut the other way.
It is just much too early to tell whether there are really going to be tail winds provided by his policies. Uncertainty is not what the market welcomes.
Melisa Franzen, DFL state senator, Edina attorney: Even right after the election, there was already a boost in consumer confidence. I remember going to Macy’s and seeing a lady who had been working the holidays there for many years. She said that usually, in an election year, you don’t see as much spending. She was pretty impressed with the rate of spending in local the Macy’s store. So I guess it was happening even before our budget surplus, just as soon has he got elected. So I think there was a boost, frankly.
Sarah Walker, liberal lobbyist and political consultant: The budget surplus and that fact that Minnesota’s economy is doing so well has nothing to do with Trump. I think it is a testament to work Mark Dayton has done over the last seven years. And it is evidence that while he did raise taxes, it actually has helped our economy. Our economy has not slowed down as a result of increased taxes.
Kim Hunter, St. Paul immigration attorney: I think the record — if Trump manages to hang on for a full term — will show that Trump is going to be a bust for Minnesota’s economy. I also think that any objective evidence makes it clear that what has been a boon for Minnesota’s economy is actually taxing the wealthy appropriately.
Question 2: We’d like to put a question to you about the Trump administration that the president himself has posed in the past: What the hell is going on?
Bell: I think the Trump administration has many challenges. I think it has deepened the political divide in this country. One of the things that we found out during the Obama administration is that it is easier to block things than to get things done, and I think the Democrats have taken that lesson to heart. I am not optimistic that a great deal is going to get done or that a lot of change is going to get made. Because I think, frankly, that the Democrats will see it in both their policy and political interests not to allow that. And I think our political system either rightly or wrongly, depending on your beliefs, will reward that.
Conversely, I think that that expectations for Trump are so low that he will likely exceed them. A year from now, people will more likely than not say, “Gee whiz, I was more exercised or concerned about Trump than was warranted.”
Franzen: We can now buy beer on Sunday. That’s the best I can do.
Walker: I think that the Trump administration does not know how to govern. They are quickly learning that it is a much bigger job than they imagined and I think they are in over their heads. Hopefully, [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions is the next to leave.
Hunter: A slow-motion dumpster fire, with accelerant being poured on by the Russians.
Question 3: The state of Arizona is considering a law to allow urban residents to shoot unwanted critters in their yards — in other words, to shoot snakes in the grass. Shouldn’t that law be allowed to pass just for poetic reasons?
Bell: Absolutely! I’m not a fan of critters anyplace. And if you want to shoot a snake in your yard, have at it.
Franzen: I hope I can kill cockroaches in my backyard. But shoot them? I think that’s going a little overboard.
Walker: I don’t think we should be adopting Arizona laws. All we have to do is look at our surplus and look at where their economy is. I think we should stick to following the citizens of Minnesota want to do.
Hunter: Oh alas, the leftist in me says that would set a dangerous precedent — tempting though it may be.