Opinion: Dayton offers up Wisconsin as cautionary tale

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton depicts the political storm wracking neighboring Wisconsin as a cautionary tale.

Dayton, locked in his own budget debate with the Republican-controlled Legislature, portrays the Wisconsin drama as a result of trying to force big change through the political process too quickly.

He has urged Minnesota lawmakers to take their time in addressing the state’s $6 billion state budget deficit, said Dayton.

“Be careful, be slow, be respectful,” said Dayton, speaking Feb. 18 to the ECM Editorial Board.

“If you want to make especially drastic changes, you have to inform people. You have to give people a chance to be part of the process, you have to take public input and alike,” he said.

“If you just say ‘We’re going to ram this through’ and go 90 degrees to the right or the left, you do that in a car going 50 miles an hour and make a 90-degree turn, you flip the car over,” said Dayton.

“Better slow down. Better look both ways. Better really consider which way you want to go,” he said.

While tens of thousands of protesters have surrounded the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison in recent days, Dayton indicated that attracting throngs to the Minnesota State Capitol for this state’s budget debate is not a goal.

“I want public input,” said Dayton.

You can’t prevent big crowds from showing up at the State Capitol, he said.

“But I don’t think big crowds are what the goal is. It’s to have informed citizen participation,” said Dayton.

He’s more interested in seeing a continual dialogue taking place between lawmakers and the public over the next two months over the budget, he explained.

Republican legislative leaders on Friday suggested the recent political storm in Wisconsin was unique to that state.

The political situation in Minnesota is different, explained House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood.

“We’ve got our own set of issues here in Minnesota,” he said. “We are already doing what they’re proposing in Wisconsin,” said Dean of state employee reform.“We have very different states. We have very different budgets. We have very different histories,” said Dean.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffafo, expressed optimism that a state budget deal can be reached between Republicans, the Democratic legislative minority, and Dayton.

“I believe we will find a compromise. There’s plenty of time,” said Koch.

Dayton suggested, too, time enough existed.

But he emphasized that movement needs to take place on both sides.

One phrase Republican leaders have used in discussions with him is that they have caucus members “‘whose feet are in concrete,’” said Dayton.

Dayton used a football analogy, comparing the process of compromise to two opposing football teams needing to meet near the 50-yard line.

“If their (Republicans’) feet are in concrete, I’m not going to their end zone,” said Dayton. “It will take two to move to reach the middle together,” he said.

That’s why he’s been careful to avoid bringing absolutes into the budget debate, Dayton explained.

“There’s going to have to be obviously some give and take,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean, as I say, that I come to say, ‘Well, you’re right and I’ve been wrong all 64 years,’” said Dayton.

Nor does it mean Republicans are totally wrong, he added.

It means most of the people who elected them did so with a “work it out, folks” attitude in terms of settling the state budget, Dayton explained.

He’s comfortable with the debate — the noise of democracy, Dayton explained.

Dayton joked of having “a thick old hide” that can absorb potshots.

But a budget deal has to get done, he emphasized.

Dayton, as he has in recent days,  indicated that he wasn’t thrilled with his own budget proposal, which contains billions in tax increases on upper income Minnesotans.

“If I didn’t have to come up with a $6.2 billion (budget deficit) solution, I wouldn’t be supporting my budget solution, either,” he said, smiling.

Dean called Dayton’s proposed budget a giant leap backward.

Republicans look to budget cuts in balancing the fiscally unstable state budget.

To view excerpts from the Dayton visit with the ECM Editorial Board, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiTts6_exNg.

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