Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and the new legislative leadership of both parties say their top priority in the 2013 legislative session is balancing the state budget.
Dayton along with incoming DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen, GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, and GOP Minority Leader David Hann all sat down with capitol reporters today in a pre-holiday question and answer session about their priorities in the new legislative session that starts in January.
Voters in November elected a DFL majority in both the House and Senate which gives the DFL control of the governorship and the legislature for the first time in more than 20 years. When asked whether the new DFL control would lead to a legislative and spending overreach, Dayton and Sen. Bakk were very cautious.
"Any tip-toe we take we'll be accused of overreaching," said Dayton.
Dayton said the budget will be his number one priority heading into the new year.
"We're not out of the fiscal hole that we dug for ourselves over the last fiscal biennium," said Dayton. "We don't want to use any fiscal shifts of borrowing to get out of this hole."
Incoming House Speaker Thissen echoed Dayton's remarks.
"If balancing the budget is over reaching, then we will over reach," said Thissen.
Thissen's new counterpart, Minority Leader Daudt said part of his priorities in the new budget is to stop the trend of borrowing from education funding to balance the state budget.
"I think the most important thing in the current budget is solving the education shift," said Daudt.
The new legislature will convene with individual members bringing their own spending and policy priorities. But Sen. Bakk said newly elected lawmakers will be in for a surprise.
"They soon will learn that there will be very little money to do anything new," said Bakk.
In fact, Bakk hinted very strongly that the legislature will have to make many cuts to popular programs.
"I don't know how the Health Care Affordability Act is going to affect us, but there are certainly going to have to be cuts in Health and Human Services," Bakk said.
Gov. Dayton said he will likely introduce another bonding bill for public construction projects. Dayton said among his top priorities are convention centers for Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud. Sen. Minority Leader Hann noted that there have already been more than $2 billion borrowed for public projects in recent years and that any new spending would have to wait until the next budget forecast comes out in February. Dayton agreed.
DFL leaders also said they expected members to introduce bills on gay marriage and voter reform. Voters in November defeated constitutional amendments on both issues, and Sen. John Marti has already indicated he will sponsor a bill legalizing gay marriage in Minnesota.
"On the marriage issue," said Rep. Thissen, "What that amendment said is that they don't want the conversation to go cold."
Sen. Bakk made it clear that the most pressing issue in his chamber will be the budget and that gay marriage needs to have a more extensive discussion throughout the state.
"My priority is to deal with the budget first," said Bakk.