Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Governor Goofy, Part II

In the 1980s, Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich earned the nickname "Governor Goofy" because he was prone to large, grandiose ideas that often had no basis in reality. Personally, I liked the guy - in part because he was one of the most personable "retail politicians" I've ever known - and in part because a few of his big ideas came true, often to the state's betterment. The National Sports Center in Blaine, the Mall of America in Bloomington and the Gorbachev visit to Minnesota are just some of Perpich's ideas that took hold. He might be my favorite Democrat of all time.

There was, however, the Goofy side. He had a mercurial temper, and was prone to conspiracy theories, particularly about the media. There was a bit of a "take my ball and go home" attitude when he didn't get his way, and a number of former staffers tell stories about the way he would flip-flop on positions and issues for no discernible reason.

His goofiness is nothing, however, compared to that of the current occupant of the Governor's office, Mark Dayton. Minnesota voters knew last November that they were taking a risk, given the history of Dayton's, well, let's be polite and call it his "emotional and mental health." But I don't think anyone realized he was capable of holding the state hostage with a child-like temper tantrum.

It all begins with the state budget. Like most states, Minnesota began the year facing a bit of a budget crisis, although it's more accurate to call it a "spending crisis." State government has been growing at rates far, far greater than the rate of inflation for a couple decades, and the budget for the 2009-2011 biennium (Minnesota does its budgets in two-year cycles, beginning every other July 1) was the largest in state history at somewhere around $34 billion. Remember that $34 billion number.

Dayton - who never saw a spending program he didn't like - offered up a budget that called for nearly $2 billion in tax increases. In March, the Legislature took a vote on the Dayton tax proposal. The Senate voted it down 63-1, and the House vote was 131-0. At that point, it would have occurred to a rational person that there was a bipartisan distaste for tax increases, which would have had a horribly detrimental effect on the mild economic recovery now taking place.

Meanwhile, the Republican majorities in the Legislature went about the business of putting together a responsible budget that recognized the reality of the economic times, and the basic spending obligations of state government. Overall, their budget came out to about $34 billion, or about a 9% increase over the previous biennium. They increased the K-12 Education budget. They increased spending for courts and the justice system. They introduced some meaningful reforms to government operations, and trimmed budgets of some other state departments. And at the end of the day, they produced a balanced budget - the largest budget in state history, despite the state of the economy - without raising taxes.

This set off alarms in Dayton's head. It wasn't enough that spending increased faster than inflation (again). It wasn't enough that K-12 funding grew, or that the budget was balanced. He wants tax increases, and, well, what's the point in being the Governor if you can't hold your breath until you turn blue in order to take more money out of the people's pockets?

So he vetoed all of the budget bills (except for the tiny Agriculture bill), and now that the Legislature has reached the Constitutionally-mandated adjournment date, the only way a budget can be put in place by July 1 is through a special session of the Legislature. Without a budget by July 1, state government will shut down (which may not be a totally bad thing, but that's a discussion for another day).

So Governor Goofy is willing to incur the cost of a special session - or even a government shutdown - for what? Not for some high-minded principle like a balanced budget, job creation, increased education funding or a revitalized economy. No, he's willing to do all of this because the voices in his head say that taxes should be raised.

It's a goofiness that makes Perpich look sane and sober in comparison.

1 comment:

  1. If we had a business in Minnesota that employed people to gathered information, analyzed it and then published it to the public, the information about the state's budget in this post is something that they might want to use.