Minnesota's Senate Majority Leader's Been There, Tells House GOP to Stay Strong

“I can’t even watch television news these days.  Everything that is going on in Washington now is the same as it was in our state only a month ago—right down to all the class warfare.  But we stood our ground, and finally got a budget with no higher or new taxes.  That’s what the Republicans have to do in Congress.”

That’s what Minnesota’s state Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch told HUMAN EVENTS Thursday night, as the U.S. House debated and prepared to vote on House Speaker John Boehner’s debt-ceiling package.  For conservative Republican Koch (pronounced “COKE”), who last year became the Gopher State’s first-ever female senate leader after Republicans took 37 of the 67 senate seats, the events in Washington these days are almost hauntingly parallel to those in the state capital of St. Paul in June and July.

When liberal Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, a narrow 2010 election winner, offered a budget to close Minnesota’s $5 billion budget deficit with taxes on higher income earners, Koch and the leadership in the Republican-controlled house of representatives said emphatically:  “No way!”

“[Dayton] asked to raise the income taxes on the fourth tier [individuals that annually make more than $80,000 per year and couples making more than $130,000] from 7.85% to 10.95% and for an additional 3% surcharge on income earners of $500,000 a year or more,” recalled Koch.  “And out of a $37 billion budget, he proposed only $200 million in spending cuts—in other words, nothing.”

The senate leader also noted that, while significant, the budget deficit in Minnesota was not as large as it could have been because “an additional $1.2 billion in revenue came in during the periods from November to February.  There is strong evidence that this was the result of all of the Bush tax cuts being renewed during that time [on Dec. 7, President Obama reluctantly agreed to support renewal of all the Bush tax cuts, including those on the highest-income earners that he had long denounced].”

With Dayton increasing the size of the state budget from $32.5 billion to $37.5 billion and calling for significant tax increases, Koch and GOP legislative leaders countered with a $34 billion budget that included spending cuts and contained budgets.  At the end of March, the Republican-backed budget was passed and sent to the governor.  Negotiations proved fruitless because of Dayton’s insistence on the tax increases—which were, in Koch’s words, “a marquee issue for him in the campaign last year.”  (Dayton won over Republican Tom Emmer Jr. in a cliffhanger that was recounted.  At the same time, Republicans captured both houses of the state legislature.)

Dayton finally vetoed nine of the 10 budget packages covering state government that the legislature had passed.  On July 1, with the legislature adjourned and no budget, state government closed and remained closed for nearly three weeks.

“But we stood our ground—the Republicans were not going to go along with anything that raised taxes, period,” said Koch,  “Oh, [Democrats] played the class warfare card, spending more than $1 million on an ad campaign saying Minnesota needed to ‘tax the rich.’  But we emphasized that what government can’t afford, it needs to cut.  We said, ‘It’s not about who you’re taxing, it’s what you’re spending.’  And you know something? The people came around to us.”

After three weeks, Dayton gave in.  State government reopened after he signed the original Republican budget—albeit reluctantly and with some strong language about his opponents.

Minnesota Common Sense for House GOPers: “Don’t Give In!”

Turning to Republicans in Washington, Koch urged them to “never give in to this ‘balanced approach’ that Obama and the Democrats talk about.  All that talk from them is disguised class warfare—the old 1970s view of taxing the rich.  ‘Balanced approach’ is a code word for tax increases.  They can’t talk about cutting spending.  We can and we should.”

“And we should talk about what higher taxes will do to small business,” added Koch, who with her husband owns a small fiber optic and utility service company.

The Minnesotan feels that the fact that the plan being considered by Senate Democrats does not contain any of the tax increases urged by Obama “has to be looked at as a victory.  You had a very liberal President who wanted more tax dollars to spend and his ideas were topped.  That was in large part because Speaker Boehner and the Republicans have remained firm so far.”

As for some Republicans who said the Boehner plan didn’t go far enough, Koch said it reminded her of “some of my colleagues who said that our plan that slowed the growth rate to a 4% to 5% increase was not enough, that it should have been zero per cent.  My goodness—the growth rate increases have been about 20% for years, and this is the lowest growth increase since the 1960s.

“Before you turn an ocean liner around, you have to stop it.  It won’t turn around in six months.  The same is true with government at any level.

“I would tell Speaker Boehner to stay firm and Republicans in the House to stand with him.  And be patient.”