Politics: DFL has high hopes for ’14

Editor’s note: First of a two-part series looking at Minnesota politics with a sneak-peak at 2014 from the DFL and GOP chairmen’s perspectives.

MARSHALL – Republicans had a big year in Minnesota in 2010. Democrats took control of the Minnesota House and Senate under a DFL governor in 2012. In the back-and-forth nature of politics, history would indicate 2014 should bode well for the GOP party.

But DFL Chairman Ken Martin isn’t ready to bow to history just yet.

“No doubt, the pendulum does swing, but part of the reason is because people get into office and forget the promises they made to people,” Martin told the Independent this week. “One of the reasons I’m optimistic about 2014 is we made promises to the voters in 2012 if we win back majorities and the DFLers delivered on their promises.”

Martin said unlike previous legislative sessions under Republican leadership that were filled with gridlock so bad it eventually led to the longest shutdown in state history in 2011, legislators have been able to get more done in recent sessions.

“We just had one of the most accomplished legislative sessions in the last 15 years in terms of historical legislation,” Martin said. “We had the first-ever investment in early childhood education, all-day kindergarten, an increase in the K-12 per pupil formula, marriage equality. You can go down the list of things accomplished. I do think the pendulum swings because electorates are very volatile, but if you deliver, the voters will award you by re-electing you.”

Still, the general election is more than 16 months and one legislative session away, and the 2014 session could go a long way in determining whether that pendulum stays in the DFL’s favor or swings back to the GOP.

Martin said some important issues face legislators in 2014, key among them: bonding and transportation, two major issues that voters will be keeping a close eye on.

“I think there’s a lot of unfinished business,” he said. “A couple things need to happen for sure: a bonding bill and a transportation bill. Also, hopefully they’ll find a way to give the lowest paid workers a raise by raising the minimum wage.”

Martin said the Legislature missed a real opportunity this past session to produce a strong bonding bill to “put more Minnesotans back to work.” The majority of a trimmed-down bonding bill that passed this year went toward major renovations at the state Capitol. This year was not a bonding year; 2014 is.

“Typically, bonding bills have enjoyed bipartisan support over the years, but last session was another instance I’ve seen of politicization of legislative bodies that resulted in a standstill. We could’ve put thousands of Minnesotans back to work and invested in critical infrastructure, but Republicans refused to do it. A big focus for the DFL next year is passing a bonding bill and a transportation fix.”

Martin isn’t concerned about how the increase in the state’s tax rates will affect the next election. He said Republicans are using fear tactics when talking about the state losing businesses and jobs in light of approved tax hikes. The new fiscal year brought a number of new taxes to the books – including various consumer sales taxes on things like digital downloads, a warehousing and storage tax (to be delayed until after March 31, 2014), a cigarette tax and a significant income tax increase on the state’s wealthiest residents – as part of a $2 billion overall tax increase.

“The reality of it is if you look back at the last 30, 40 years in state history, it’s the same rhetoric,” he said. “(Republicans) said if you raise taxes on the rich, raise corporate taxes, you’ll drive businesses from the state. That’s just not ever proven to be true. If you look at the ’80s, the income tax was raised, the corporate tax was raised and we had some of the strongest growth in state history.”

Martin said businesses “flock to Minnesota” because of the state’s educated workforce, noting that Minnesota has the most Fortune 500 companies (20) per capita than any other state.