Gridlock, extremes, partisanship at the Capitol? Unintended consequences of what Northfield’s liberal voters asked for

Star Tribune reporter Richard Meryhew at the Goodbye Blue Monday Coffeehouse in NorthfieldStarTribune reporter Richard Meryhew paid a visit to Northfield and a few other towns in District 25B last week, asking citizens their reaction to the state budget battle at the Capitol.  His story appeared in yesterday’s paper: Voters say: Enough Already.  In politically diverse House District 25B, folks wonder how compromise became a four-letter word at the Capitol.

Among the Northfielders he interviewed: Chuck DeMann, Peggy Prowe, Sue Lloyd, Al Linder, Jim Johnson, and me.

Sue Lloyd was quoted: "How we’ve come to such extremes I don’t know… Are there middle [ground] people? I don’t know anymore."

Sue, we had a "middle ground" legislator not too long ago:  Ray Cox, a moderate Republican by most measures.  Back in 2007, Ray got a measly 26% score from the Taxpayers League, was at times branded at RINO by some in the GOP, and received the endorsement from the Star Tribune.  Ray wrote in a Jan. 2008 blog post after he lost the special Senate election to Kevin Dahle:

Ray CoxIn the recent Senate Special election I was honored to receive the endorsement of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. That meant a lot to me. The editors and writers there conducted a thorough review of my voting record. They conducted a comprehensive interview about current issues. While they were careful to keep partisan politics out of their discussion, the editors are well aware of the environment that the legislature must conduct its work. They noted my ability to work in a bipartisan manner on state issues in an attempt to resolve some of the more pressing concerns.

Northfield’s liberal voters rejected this moderate Republican and instead voted for Dahle in large numbers.  Likewise, Cox was not enough of a social conservative for a large number of voters in the western part of the district and so they didn’t vote in large enough numbers to offset the liberal vote in Northfield.

Northfield’s liberals won the battle of 2008 but they lost the war in 2010 when the Republicans fielded much more conservative candidates in Al DeKruif and Kelby Woodard who were able to get out the D-25 conservative vote in big numbers.

So for 25B voters to now complain about extremes, partisanship, and gridlock seems a little disingenuous.  Al and Kelby and the rest of the freshman Republicans know who and what got them there.  Why compromise with Gov. Dayton until you have to?

Tom Neuville, Al Quie, Ray CoxWayne Cox, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice, had a commentary in last week’s Strib titled The state’s GOP has lost its way – and many party veterans know it. He criticized the GOP for being "Not Your Mother’s Republican Party" because the voices of moderate Republicans like Arne Carlson, Duane Benson, Dave Jennings, Al Quie, and Dave Durenberger were no longer being heard by the GOP. 

Were he writing about Rice County, he’d likely name Ray Cox and Tom Neuville.

223 thoughts on “Gridlock, extremes, partisanship at the Capitol? Unintended consequences of what Northfield’s liberal voters asked for”

  1. Oh Michele Bachmann : Says one thing and does the other : Bachmann blasts the Medicare and welfare and payments to the elderly yet her husband got 137,000 dollars in Medicaid payments Bachmann and associates with this kind of spending how does that reflect her true conservative values if she has any : Once again history changes in Iowa : I learned something new about John Wayne :

    1. David, If you vote against repaving Division Street does that mean you cannot drive on it? Being against something governmental that benefits you personally adds to credibility rather than detracting as you suggest.

      1. David H,

        Not as simple, methinks, as you suggest.

        Whether a good buy or not, better pavement on Division is a common good, not an individual benefit. Since we all pay, grudgingly or not, we can all enjoy the result in good conscience.

        I know nothing about the Bachmann case. And one who opposes supposedly excessive government payments to individuals, while also receiving them, probably breaks no law. But he gets no extra credit in my gradebook. I’d award more cred to the welfare opposer who refuses benefits he’s eligible for.

      2. David(s)- Being against medicare/medicaid and taking payments at the same time kinda reminds me of a hooker campaigning for stronger prosecution of prostitution.

        Just an observation.

      3. Paul Z, considering you have indicated a personal tax bracket which should be taxed higher then extending your logic, can we assume that you send in an extra gift to the government each year equal to what you feel is morally correct for all Americans to pay? Is Obama leading the way in gifting extra personal funds to the government?

      1. David R- You, of all people, should understand how medicare payments align with true costs of providing services. Most doctors limit the number of medicare patients they treat. Someone has to pay the rent and electricity, and medicare reimbursements do not keep up with those expenses. Have you checked recently how many dentists in Northfield treat medicare clients? For Bachmann’s husband to treat this many patients seems admireable, seeing as how he loses money on the services.

  2. To be clear, Michele Bachmann’s husband received Medicaid reimbursement, not Medicare. Medicaid is for low income, indigent, and disabled children and families. Medicare is primarily for the elderly. I personally don’t have an issue with her husband accepting Medicaid. In fact, a lot of Medicaid here in MN is contracted through HMOs, so the provider may not be fully aware as to who is providing the reimbursement.

    The larger point is that while low-income adults and families currently have some medical coverage through public assistance programs, changes proposed at both the state and federal levels would greatly limit eligibility. At that point, some of Mr. Bachmann’s clients won’t receive any mental health services.

    1. Well, David R., if you want to fault the Bachmanns for taking Medicaid money for services rendered to Medicaid patients and farm subsidies on eligible farmland, I guess you can. That is your opinion, and you have freedom to express it. I fail to see how either of these actions has any bearing on the Minnesota Stae budget woes or the ideologic logjam going on in St. Paul right now.

      1. my way of thinking here is Bachmann opposes any form of medicare medicaid and any form of government aid to others but it is ok for her to take it : It works both ways state and federal : Thanks to no comprise by the Republican Party (They ought to be ashamed) : They talk a strong about Economy and Jobs well with a shutdown Minnesota stands to lose Millions and it will cost more now to rebound : Thanks for the shutdown

      2. there’s a word for Michele Bachmann’s actions regarding the Social Service programs and farm subsidies she deplores publicly , but accepts personally : hypocrite.

  3. Back to the question of the gridlock, I have been looking for some details about what programs on which Governor Dayton was proposing to spend the additional $2 billion plus. I know there was not any great increases that would affect my wife’s industry, seeing that most wokers there have had to endure pay cuts over the last few years just to be able to pay for the needed services. Does anyone have a link delineating the specifics of the increase?

    1. There was little or no new proposals from either side Nursing Homes and Nursing Home workers are not a priority to some: I Hope some people think to change their minds Minnesota’s population is aging fast : Long-Term Care Funding has been on the slide for over 12 or more years at best : Long-Term Care gets what left of the scraps under the table until we can find a fair and equal way to re-imburse Long-Term Care : Both parties have let us down : We should no longer push our elderly to the side but make them a priority :

    2. John – most areas of the budget are being cut, although there are differences in the extent of the cuts (e.g., Governor cuts MNSCU by 6%; legislature cuts MNSCU by 14%). However, the main difference is in the Health and Human Services budget. That’s where the difference is over a billion dollars between the governor and the legislature. One example is restricting eligibility for health care programs. Many low-income adults will lose their eligibility for Medical Assistance (MN’s version of Medicaid) and for MN Care. We will save money by providing health insurance to fewer people. The challenge here is that the projected costs of health care continue to rise, so it’s much more difficult to just say we won’t spend any more money than we did in the previous biennium. There are many smaller cuts to Health and Human Services as well (child care assistance support, long-term care assistance, elderly waivers that keep folks in their residence, etc.). It really comes down to a question of what we see as our role as a state in providing a safety-net for those with disabilities and those who are poor.

      1. David B : It is time that other areas of Government feel the sacrifice not just Nursing Homes or people who are disabled : Maybe the DNR and their reckless spending ever thought of that : They get five times at monies : Long-Term Care only one or half

      2. David B- The most recent chart I could find shows HHS as receiving about 46% of the budget, followed by Education with 30-some%. I suppose that when roughly 80% of a $34 billion budget goes to just two catagories, then cutting things out of the other 20% just doesn’t produce that much affect on the total. This is an unfortunate situation. Seeing that the 2012/2013 budget is $2 billion higher than the last bienium, are these “cuts” just differences in the amount of increases given, or are the 6%/14% “cuts” actually that nuch less than the 2010/2011 budgeted amounts? This should not be just semantics we are talking about here.

      3. John – For MNSCU (which I am most familiar with, since that’s my employer), the reductions were from a base that didn’t change from Fy10-Fy11. So, they are indeed real cuts. The state’s contribution to the cost of higher education in the MNSCU system has dropped over the past decade from around two-thirds to about 45%. Fortunately (though certainly not for the students), schools can make up some of that difference through tuition hikes.

        The Health and Human Services budget is different. That base continues to rise based on projections of rising health care costs, increased eligibility for programs, etc. Take the MN Sex Offender Program as an example. The number committed to that program has grown from 167 in 2000 to 575 in 2010. There has been (and will continue to be) growth in the long-term care needs of the elderly, as well. So, the projected budgets in HHS incorporate this project growth.

      4. To David B : The Budget and spending does not reflect the shortfall Long-Term Care continues to fall behind lack of funding properly as costs go up : Yes I feel that we should reform and make cuts in our sex-offender treatment program alot of waste there as reported in the last auditors report quite a read :

    3. John,

      You ask in #54 how Gov Dayton proposes to spend the “additional” $2bn. I assume you mean the difference between the Republicans’ proposed $34bn and Dayton’s $36bn. That’s a reasonable question, given the numerical flotsam and jetsam left by our foundering ship of state.

      My answer: there is no $2bn of “new money”, so

      Speaking of numbers, the Republicans have also mentioned $32bn, above which their $34bn budget proposal is supposedly a 6.6% increase. And Gov Dayton’s budget (or some earlier version of it) is often described as a 15% spending increase — by Katherine Kersten in today’s Strib, for instance.

      The difficulty of reconciling these numbers is not mathematical as such (I went on about this further in 26.1.1). The difference between 34 and 32 is indeed 2. And 34 really is (pretty close to) a 6.6% increase over 32. The problem is with reliability and meaningfulness of the “input” figures themselves.

      The baseline number $32bn seems to me most problematic — and most crucial to the Republican argument that $34n represents a real 6.6% increase. As I said in 26.1.1, the state seems to have spent something like $34.5bn in the present biennium, when federal stiumulus payments are included (as they should be if we’re comparing monies available for spending in one biennium as opposed to the last. Adding in the (disgraceful!) “shift” (aka, IOU) of $1.9bn in school support, plus some natural and inevitable increase in the cost of operation (14K new students in our schools, for one) it seems clear to me that there’s no mysterious new $2n to be accounted for.

      1. Paul Z.- I’m a little suspiscious of the numbers here. If projected revenues are $34 billion, and the governor is proposing a budget of $36 billion, then there has to be an additional $2 billion found somewhere. It isn’t just hiding in the wings. I’m a little skittish of borrowing against future monies that are probably estimates, at best. I really don’t have a problem with 7000+ millionaires paying more in taxes (if, indeed, there would actually be an increase in the taxes they actually pay). I just don’t trust the system to actually produce this increased revenue. It seems (only anecdotally) that in the past, the tax burden somehow settles on the middle class, not the upper income levels. I don’t have exact figures on the 7000+ millionaires, but are we talking about people who actually have this much income or are they just worth that on paper? In as much as these people seem to have leverage with the legislature, it seems there will be ways found to circumvent the tax liabilities. My concern is that after 2 more years, we will have an even larger government to fund and we will still be in the hole. This goes back to our differing political philosophy bases. You see government as an answer to financial difficulties. I see government as a drain on the financial health of the state. Reality is probably somewhere in between these poles, with one balancing the other.

      2. John,

        Perhaps I misunderstood your question.

        If your point is simply that a 36bn budget must include 2bn more in spending than a 34bn budget, then of course that’s true — and I, too, would like clearer numerical information than I’ve seen so far.

        I’d like to see, for instance, a 3-column, apples-to-apples chart comparing expenditures in various categories: Column 1 showing actual spending (from all pockets) for the 2010-11 biennium; Column 2 showing budgeted spending under the Republican plan; Column 3 showing budgeted spending under the Gov’s plan. (Surely such a simple chart exists, but I haven’t seen one.) A few other data would help us all make sense of the numbers: how much spending in 2010-11 derived from federal stimulus funds; a clear accounting for the $1.9bn school funding shift; information about various effects of “inflation” of various kinds — increased population, changes in school populations, cost inflation in health care and other expenses the state incurs; etc.

        With such information we could better evaluate conflicting claims. The Republican 6.6%-increase-in-spending mantra, for instance, seems to me at best a sophistry and at worst a tiresome fiction. But I’d change my mind if convincing numerical data were presented to the contrary.

        As you say, too, raising 36bn means raising 2bn more than raising 34bn, and raising either amount inevitably depends on the “estimates” you’re “skittish” about. But the future is always uncertain, and every budget involves estimates.

        Bottom line: I’d like more details, too, but I’d estimate (sorry) quite confidently that Gov Dayton’s 36bn total figure, however it’s arrived at, represents little or no real increase in spending from the present biennium.

      3. Paul Z.- Yep, that is what I meant. Sorry I was not clear with my question. I agree that it would be nice to have your spread sheet. Perhaps neither side wants that because it puts their rhetoric into perspective. It just doesn’t seem like the process should be that difficult, and I believe the difficulty comes in both sides just wanting to support their rhetoric rather than actually working out a solution. Dayton made a promise to the voters to raise the taxes on the super rich, and by whatever means possible, he is going to keep that promise. The Republicans made a promise to reduce the size of the governemtnt, and they are determined to do it no matter who gets left in the dust. I really question if the framers of the constitution had this much complexity in mind when they gave us the framework for our government.

        As far as Dayton’s proposed budget being the same as the current bienium, I don’t know how you come to that conclusion. We have not seen 6% inflation in a long time. It is really discouraging to me if $2bn more in spending will not get us more services than what we have. That has got to indicate waste somewhere in the system. I also think it doesn’t matter if it is $2bn or $10bn more. If we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money.

      4. “As far as Dayton’s proposed budget being the same as the current bienium, I don’t know how you come to that conclusion. We have not seen 6% inflation in a long time.”

        John, not all sectors of the economy suffer inflation in the same way. When I looked at the CPI for the 12 months preceding Sep 2010 and Sep 2009, I see that overall inflation was near zero. But medical care services inflation was 3.3% and 3.7% for those same periods. In a biennium the total inflation would have been 7.1% (I’m sure Paul will point out if my math is wrong). So, if medical services costs incurred by the state are actually a big part of the budget, inflation in that sector alone will have a larger impact to the overall budget than one would at first assume inflation could. In the end a 6.6% increase in cost for the same level of services may end up being explainable.

      5. John,

        Phil’s right — both about the fact of differing inflation in different areas and in his calculation. (Keep in mind that n% inflation annually creates a little more than 2*n% biennially.) So a 7.1% biennial inflation rate in medical services — over which the state has no control — will indeed take pretty big chunk out of what might seem to be $2bn in new spending. Inflation in other areas the state purchases may also outrun general inflation.

        Other forms of “inflation” (note the quotes, here and in 54.3.2) also play a role. I read somewhere, for instance, that we can expect 14K more school kids in Minnesota in the coming biennium. If that’s true, these young citizens represent new expenses our state will somehow have to defray.

        I’m sorry if you’re “discouraged” that $2bn in new money won’t necessarily buy us new services, but that’s the way it is, with or without waste in the system. Politicians of all stripes rail against waste — safely enough, given that waste has few proponents. But doing so won’t address, let alone solve, our financial problems.

      6. Paul & Phil- I understand that various sectors of the economy experience inflation at different rates. Your comparisons above appear to be an “average”, since you are comparing the $2bn increase between the 2010/11 bieium budget of $32 bn to the $34 bn proposed by the legislature. The two largest expenditures in the budget are for HHS and Education. HHS is about 46%, so a 7% increase in costs here would represent about a 3.5% increase of the total budget. If they are going to play some catching up with education (about 38% if I remember correctly), then this could acount for another 3%. Dayton’s proposal is for another $2bn more. This is what I want to know where it is going. If HHS and education are going to be the main beneficiaries, then I don’t have a problem with it. If it is going to build barriers against the asian carp or a Vikings stadium, for instance, then I question the value of the investment.

      7. John,

        Again … there is no unaccounted-for $2bn.

        The question we’ve been discussing is how much more (or less) money is budgeted for 12/13, as compared to what’s actually been spent in 10/11, for state purposes. Only in that context can we judge whether anybody’s proposed budget represents a cut, an increase, or a steady state. How big future (or past) budgets should be is another interesting question, but it’s not the one we’re discussing now.

        In the present context the $32bn figure is simply not helpful. From what I can determine 10/11 spending was actually around $34.5bn — the “extra” $2.5bn having come from federal stimulus money. One might like or dislike this use of federal money, but we got it and we spent it (under a Republican governor … ). So it properly goes into the base of actual 10/11 spending.

        If the inflation percentage increase you mention (totaling around 6%, say) is applied (as it should be for these purposes) to the $34.5bn, we get upwards of $36.5bn — less than Gov Dayton has requested — even without accounting for increased general population, more school kids, and greater social needs in tough times.

        Alas, there’s yet another elephant (hmm, isn’t that one party’s symbol?) in the room: the $1.9bn “shift” in school funding that was committed in 10/11 under a well-established funding formula, but was never paid. Whether the state will ever make good on that IOU is far from clear. Either way, as far as I know the Republicans’ proposed 12/13 budget does not repeat this 10/11 scam. This is to the Republicans’ credit (if not scamming can be called a credit) but it obviously reduces funding available for other purposes.

        Yet again … the Governor’s $36bn proposal leaves no room for phantom billions in new spending.

      8. Oops … fuzzy math alert about 2/3 of the way through my posting above. $36.5bn is more — not less — than Gov Dayton has requested.

        OK, I’ll go away now.

      9. Here and in conversations “on the street” both liberals and conservatives seem to be stepping back and saying something in out governance is broken … refreshing. One interesting note on health care is that when MNCare was an open fee for service system paid through subsidized premiums (meaning no HMOs involved) the cost was about 23% less. Meaning insured could go anywhere they wanted without controls then the HMOs jumped in to “save money” and cost jumped almost 23% overnight. The 23% appears to be their administrative overhead.

        The overall acceptance of the inflation levels in health care are the scariest part of the debate – “if they get you asking the wrong questions they don’t have to worry about the answers.” CT scans as an example should be free at the grocery store the technology is so old and well understood … yet medical providers are probably claiming the need to up the cost again.

      10. David H,

        Can you give any references for the 23% figures you cite? Maybe they’re right, but I’d like to understand the calculation.

        I wonder, too, what you mean by “overall acceptance” of health inflation rates. To “accept” that inflation (and poverty, racism, illness …) exist is not to endorse any of these things. What part do you find “scariest”?

      11. Paul, I worked for an HMO management company at the time and MN Care only briefly ran as a free choice system at its inception – I believe the numbers are correct but have no article to point you towards. Funding a 2 billion dollar increase to fund further inflation into an already overpriced and overbuilt medical system seems “nuts.” How does further funding ever halt the inflation (I guess when it kills the economy, unemployment rockets and the government shuts down … wait a minute).

        I think where I differ most with you most is that without a free market where actors choose how and where to spend their dollars a society cannot sustain itself to the greater good. If you took most of the tax dollars (fed and state) and just gave each citizen a check and they could decide on allocations between a gym membership, fixing balding tires and health insurance then health costs would plummet and quality would soar. We need to get back to the motto “its a free country.”

      12. David H.- I’m surprised and shocked you do not recognize our “free” country. Free medical coverage, free education, free food….. The question is for whom is all this free?

  4. Paul Z.- I will go back to your comment 54.3.2 and reference your comment about the spread sheet. You keep saying there is no unaccounted for $2bn. I say there is NO accounted for spending beyond the general departments of HHS, Education, DNR, DOT, etc. Within those categories, I know nothing of how the $$ are being disbursed. That is all I’m asking for, and I think it is my business.

    1. John,

      You make a fair point about what’s “accounted” for — I used the a-word too loosely. Mea culpa.

      Indeed, I think we agree that something like the data table described in 54.3.2 — an accounting, if you will — would shed a lot of light on these matters. If this information exists (could it really not?) I haven’t seen it, so for me, too, the $2bn difference between $34bn and $36bn is literally unaccounted for. Either I’m looking in the wrong places, and it’s my fault; or this information is not widely available, and I blame whichever pols are not telling.

      What I meant to convey (despite my poorly chosen a-word) still seems to me most important: that the “extra” $2bn we’ve been talking about does not suggest to me any real expansion in government programs, let alone evidence of waste (as suggested in 54.3.3). “Inflation” in the various senses discussed above is more than enough to account for this amount of “new” spending.

      1. Paul Z.- I’m glad you can’t find the info, either. I don’t feel like I’ve missed something just out of not knowing how to research it. The idea of having to pay for inflated costs in medical services is probably debateable, depending on your association with the medical field. Whether the losses claimed by the providers when they accept Medicaid payments are real or not may be hard to document, depending on what $$ amount of value is placed on the service and how one arrives at the figure. I only have knowledge of the industry my wife is involved in. I know those figures are pretty firm, so I have a tendency to believe the other areas of the field are running short, also.

        As far as education, two of my daughters who taught in public schools left that level because of all the unfunded requirements placed upon them. It is one thing to require a business to meet certain standards (OSHA, ADA, etc.) when they have the ability to raise their prices to cover the extra costs. For the government to place greater and greater demands upon public educators, but not give them money to meet those requirements, then they really don’t have anyplace else to turn. This is the same thing that has happened in my wife’s industry. It is this type of government programs that I think are broken and need to be fixed.

  5. Next topic, there are important business ethics issues to be resolved for Think Mint of Northfield….David ?

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