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Home / News / Q & A with House majority leader Matt Dean: ‘tax increases were rejected by the voters’
On Saturday Rep. Matt Dean was elected House majority leader by his GOP colleagues. The four-term legislator from Dellwood earned the leadership post after leading his caucus's successful election effort. Republicans picked up 25 seats and will have a 72-62 seat majority when the Legislature convenes in January.

Q & A with House majority leader Matt Dean: ‘tax increases were rejected by the voters’

Matt Dean

Matt Dean

On Saturday Rep. Matt Dean was elected House majority leader by his GOP colleagues. The four-term legislator from Dellwood earned the leadership post after leading his caucus’s successful election effort. Republicans picked up 25 seats and will have a 72-62 seat majority when the Legislature convenes in January.

Earlier this week Capitol Report caught up with Dean to discuss the GOP takeover of the House, the state’s anticipated $5.8 billion budget deficit and other legislative priorities. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Capitol Report: What did you tell your fellow Republicans about why you thought you were the person to take on this leadership post?

Matt Dean: I had met a lot of our new freshmen through recruiting and the elections process and was thrilled that so many of them had won who are just going to be absolute superstars. And I just wanted to make sure that the things that they all ran on we were actually able to do and that they were able to move forward and was happy to help do that.

We not only have to put an agenda forward that reflects what the voters were saying, but also realize that we have to work with the Democrats to find a broad base of support because the problems that we’re facing are too big to be solved by one party. And we realize that, and I have shown in the past that I have been able to work with folks on the other side of the aisle to find enough common ground to move forward with good legislation.

Capitol Report: Clearly this legislative session the biggest issue is going to be the $5.8 billion budget deficit. Is your stance and the stance of the Republican caucus that this problem can be solved through cuts alone?

Dean: The biggest challenge of this legislative session is to return jobs and productivity for Minnesota, and that is what we’re going to be absolutely focused on in moving forward. Some of that will challenge the notion that we absolutely have to increase the budget 17 percent in order to satisfy the wants and needs of specific agencies and bureaucracies. We are going to reject that assumption and we are going to embrace reform and demand it.

Capitol Report: Okay, but are any kind of tax increases off the table as far as you’re concerned?

Dean: The tax increases were rejected by the voters. Even if legislative majorities had not flipped, tax increases would not be palatable to Minnesota. Most of the state has heard the argument and decided that that kills jobs and that would not be passable in either body with either majority. So in moving forward, I think that that discussion has been fairly clearly vetted across the country and in Minnesota, and tax increases just are not where we are going to be looking. We’re looking to grow jobs in the private sector, and the revenue that they will produce will allow us to move ahead.

Capitol Report: The governor’s race obviously is still somewhat up in the air but it looks likely that Mark Dayton will become the next governor. Given that he has proposed closing the bulk of this revenue shortfall through an increase in the income tax, how do you find common ground there?

Dean: There was not support for an income tax increase if the Senate and the House had remained Democrat. So if we do have a Gov. Dayton and he is sworn in, and if that had occurred and the House and the Senate had not flipped, there would not be any support for his tax plan at all. And I think that many of the folks in the legislature, Democrat and Republican, sprinted away from that 180 degrees during the election. So I think that the new reality is that we have to find creative ways to reform our agencies and the way we do business. And that will be true whether we have Gov. Emmer or Gov. Dayton.

Capitol Report: What about cuts? What are some areas where you think there’s potential for significant cuts?

Dean: Well, I think we’re going to be looking everywhere for reductions in spending, and it’s not just cuts in terms of budget line cuts, but we’re going to be looking for reforms in priorities and pushing that very hard. And funding our priorities within our means will mean doing things differently, and in some areas it might mean that we are spending more money. In another it means that we’ll be spending less money. We’re going to be stopping things that we’re doing right now that could be done better or cheaper within the private sector. So we’re going to be taking out a Yellow Page book and going through it, finding things that we’re currently doing in government that could be done better, cheaper in the private sector and outsourcing them. We’re going to be looking at ways of reforming all of our agencies, but when you’re looking at the overall budget and what is growing the fastest, the areas of health and human services are growing out of control and we absolutely must focus on those two areas in particular.

Capitol Report: You have just two months before the legislative session begins. What are some of the things that your caucus needs to do in the next eight weeks to be ready to govern on January 4th?

Dean: One of the things that we’re going to do – and I should have addressed this with the areas of cutting – is we’re going to start with ourselves. We’re going to have a smaller government footprint in the Minnesota House. We’re going to have fewer committees and we’re going to be spending less money.

We also have a once-in-a-lifetime, literally, opportunity to match up with the Senate so that our committee structures can be, if not totally aligned, to be complementary so that we can move bills from one side to the other seamlessly. That will make things simpler and more transparent and will allow us to do the kinds of reforms that we need to do.

Capitol Report: The last four years Democrats have controlled both houses of the Legislature and there was a GOP governor. We now have the reverse situation. What did you learn from watching the Democrats operate in the majority over the last four years?

Dean: I think there was a little bit less of a focus on the work product. I think we need to focus more on the work product and less on partisan politics, and we need to work together to find bills that the governor can sign. It’s not the Legislature’s job to be the critic of the governor. We’re all there and elected to get our work done and work together. That would be the goal – whether it is Gov. Emmer or Gov. Dayton – to find bills that the governor can sign that reflects the best interests of the state of Minnesota and also the voters that just elected us. And that, I think, is the biggest difference between last year and next year is the page is turned in Minnesota and across the country and clearly voters are asking us to head in a new direction. And they are looking for more than just change. They are looking for results.

Capitol Report: We talked about the budget shortfall, and obviously job creation is a big focus. What other legislative priorities do you think will be out there in 2011?

Dean: I can’t think of any right now.

Capitol Report: Should there be a bonding bill next year?

Dean: We will very likely have a bonding bill that reflects the needs of the state. I think that we also want to focus on trying to reform the way we do bonding so that our projects are completed faster. Right now we have hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects that are approved that are just sitting on the shelf waiting to be done that are, quote, unquote, “shovel ready” that were passed in not just the previous year but in sessions before that, but they’ve got a long expiration date. And in some cases, they remain on our credit card, as it were. We need to make sure that those projects get done as quickly as possible. … We’ve got a depression in the construction trades, and those folks would benefit from those projects that are just sitting on the shelf at the state right now.

Capitol Report: There was some back and forth [earlier this week] with Speaker-designate Zellers about his stance and the caucus’s stance in terms of what, if any, legislative action the Legislature might take if the recount process does drag out for some significant time into 2011. What’s your stance on how the Republican-controlled Legislature should proceed if that eventuality comes to pass?

Dean: Right now we have no control over that. We do have a recount process in place, and that needs to work its course, and the people that are doing that are going to do a good job and get through the recount process before we even speculate on anything beyond that.

Capitol Report: What about a Viking stadium? Do you expect that to be in play next session?

Dean: I don’t know. Right now the only thing I am absolutely sure of with respect to the Vikings stadium is that there will be a lot of people talking about it.

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