The budget agreement I reached with Republican legislative leaders last week was a true compromise: no one was happy with it. However, after two weeks of the state government shutdown, I decided that someone had to take the initiative to resolve the stalemate.
So, I did.
After four days and nights of intense negotiations, the final agreement was not entirely what I believed was best for Minnesota. However, I knew that it was the best option available to Minnesota.
It achieved four top priorities.
First, it put Minnesota back to work. It became very clear to me that Republican legislators would never vote for a tax increase, not even on millionaires and multi-millionaires. Thus, the shutdown threatened to go on, and on, and on. That would have been far too damaging to the lives of far too many Minnesotans.
Second, the agreement set the State's biennial budget at $35.7 billion, $1.5 billion higher than the Republicans' "All Cuts" proposal. What that additional spending does for the people of Minnesota and their essential services was worth fighting for. From preventing cuts in special education, to increasing the state's per-pupil funding by $50/student for each year of the biennium, the first real increase school districts have received for many years.
From reducing by $50 million the savage cuts to the University of Minnesota, which the Regents said would raise tuitions by as much as 12% this fall, to preventing reductions in the hours of personal care attendants, whose assistance makes it possible for Minnesotans with disabilities to live more independent and productive lives.
From protecting home care health services to senior citizens, which enable them to live in their own homes rather than being forced into nursing homes, to preventing many thousands of Minnesotans from being forced out of affordable health care.
I could not have expected a better spending level, no matter how long the negotiations dragged on.
Third, the agreement included a $500 million bonding bill, which the Republican leaders had opposed all session. Those important projects, from needed improvements at the University of Minnesota and MnSCU campuses, to repairs at Early Childhood Learning Centers, to rebuilding the Coon Rapids Dam to stop the invasion of Asian carp, will create several thousand new jobs throughout Minnesota.
Fourth, just as important as what was in the final bills, is what was not in them. The Republicans' promise to withdraw all of their social policy legislation was crucial to the agreement. Their earlier proposals, from banning stem cell research, to prohibiting women's rights to choice, to an arbitrary 15% cut in state government employees, to eliminating teacher tenure, to slashing collective bargaining rights, ALL were eliminated.
I regret not being able to persuade Republican legislators that making Minnesota's taxes fairer by increasing state income taxes on the richest 2% of Minnesotans was in almost everyone's best interests. However, it became painfully clear that nothing would budge them from their anti-tax convictions.
Instead, they insisted upon the unwise path of additional borrowing: $700 million more in the "school shift," which will have to be repaid to the school districts, and another $640 million by issuing "tobacco bonds," which are state debt secured by proceeds from the tobacco settlement. They will need to explain to Minnesotans why an additional $1.34 billion in debt is better than raising taxes on our wealthiest citizens.
And I will continue to do my utmost to persuade Minnesotans that asking our richest citizens to pay their fair share of taxes is good public policy, and to send legislators to St. Paul who agree with me.
Some people accuse me of "caving". I don't agree. While the framework of the final agreement was originally proposed by the Republican leaders, what I agreed to was very different. All of the reactionary social policy items were removed, to the consternation of many legislators and their allies. $500 million in bonding was added. And many thousands of Minnesotans were spared a budget that would have been very hard on them.
Some of my friends are upset that I didn't get everything they or I wanted from the negotiations. Well, I wasn't negotiating with myself! The legislative leaders across the table were also passionate about their beliefs, budgets, and policies, however different they were from mine. Neither of us was going to agree to anything other than a true compromise, where both sides kept but also lost some of what they wanted.
I believe that, as people learn the details of our agreement and compare those results with the initial Republican bills, most will better understand and appreciate how much we gained and how much we saved. I hope that most Minnesotans will come to understand and appreciate that, painful and costly as the shutdown was, it was much less painful and far less costly than not only the loss of $1.5 billion in essential services for this biennium, but also the loss of an additional $1.5 billion for those services in the next biennium, and in the next, and in the next.
Now that the legislature has finally adjourned for this year, I look forward to making state government better serve the people of Minnesota at lower costs, and to bringing more jobs to our state.