Minnesota Bucks GOP Trend

Amid Republican gains nationwide, state Dems narrow the lege gap

"Some of the legislators got kicked out because of transportation," says Greiling. She points in particular to Bill Haas of Champlin, who opposed the North Star commuter rail line that is slated to run through his district. The five-term incumbent was knocked off by Anoka-Hennepin school board member Denise Dittrich. And in Rochester, Republican William Kuisle, chairman of the House Transportation Finance Committee, was also defeated by a Democratic challenger.

Most significantly for Democrats, the election results may portend a backlash against the no-new-taxes mantra that's ruled the Capitol since Gov. Tim Pawlenty was elected in 2002. After Republicans closed a $4.2 billion deficit last year by cutting health care and social services, shifting costs to local municipalities, and raiding trust funds, Democrats predicted that taxpayers would eventually end up paying for these funding shortfalls through higher property taxes and additional fees.

There is now ample evidence that such cost shifting is happening throughout the state. In 2003, for instance, a new $2,000 fee on nursing home residents who don't rely on public assistance to pay their bills was implemented. Patti Fritz argues that such a fee unfairly punishes elderly residents who put away savings for their retirement years.

It's uncertain how the shake-up in the house will play out in the upcoming legislation session. At minimum, Democrats should be able to push more of their agenda to the fore. But they'll still be facing a governor who has invested all of his political credibility in the repeated assurance that he can solve the state's chronic fiscal problems without raising taxes.

"If Pawlenty wants to have any kind of political future, he wants to be able to describe himself as a no-new-taxes Republican," notes Hamline professor Schultz. "I think that's significantly more difficult now that he no longer has a united House of Representatives behind him."

 

Correction published 11/16/2004:
"Minnesota Bucks GOP Trend" incorrectly stated that the Minnesota House of Representatives failed to pass a bonding bill during the 2004 legislative session. The House did actually pass a bonding bill, but the Senate did not. Therefore no bonding bill was enacted. The above version of the story reflects the corrected text. City Pages regrets the error.

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