A week or so after the election, one normally judicious DFL legislator offered PIM a prediction that could prove rash: Whatever may come of the 2013 legislative session, he said, Capitol watchers will not see the kind of open in-fighting and bouts of paralysis that marked Republicans’ fractious two-year tenure at the reins of the Minnesota Legislature.
We’ll see about that. With a governor of their own party at the helm for the first time in over 20 years, Democrats in the House and Senate are facing a laundry list of pent-up demands for action not unlike the ones that ultimately did in their GOP predecessors. There is pressure to increase K-12 and higher ed spending, to restore cuts made to health and human service programs, and to put a little — or a lot — more money into countless smaller sectors of the budget. Beneath those dollars-and-cents conflicts, there will be tussles over the pursuit of social-policy measures ranging from the legalization of gay marriage to schoolyard bullying to medical marijuana. Along the way, Democrats will have to balance a budget that features about $1.1 billion in red ink.
But the real measure of the 2013 session will be what DFLers make of their historic opportunity to reform Minnesota’s tax code. Erasing the chronic structural gap between revenues and expenses that has arisen through a decade’s worth of patchwork budget agreements is the job that matters most, and it won’t be finished in a single budget cycle. At the same time, however, Democrats will never get a clearer mandate, or a better chance, to build a foundation for putting the state’s revenues on a more stable and equitable footing.
Seizing that opportunity will require vision and political will far beyond the courage it takes to raise an additional couple of billion dollars in bottom-line receipts. A serious start on the job of fixing Minnesota’s taxes is almost certain to involve the revenue-neutral shifting around of billions more in the state’s tax code. And each step of the way, the DFL majorities will encounter not only Republicans who characterize every move they propose as a tax increase, but likewise a large contingent of tax-reticent swing-district Democrats who may grow faint and disoriented as the talk swirls around them.
Other Legislatures in recent years — DFL- as well as GOP-controlled — have faced bigger deficits and generally more dire circumstances. But by virtue of Democrats’ chance to see their action all the way into law, 2013 represents the tallest order any Legislature in recent memory has faced, and likewise the best chance to do something constructive for the future of a state in which the phrase “Kicking the can down the road” should be inscribed on license plates by now.
So, as a friend of ours joked the other day, “Hey — no pressure. Just remember, it all depends on you.”
—Steve Perry, Editor, Politics in Minnesota/Capitol Report