The state capitol was abuzz Friday with the news that Minnesota's budget surplus has swollen to almost $2 billion, up more than $800 million from the last estimate. Democrats, Mark Dayton and Republicans scrambled behind the scenes to set priorities for all of this newfound cash, while special interests made it rain press releases lobbying for a piece of the action.
House Majority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) seized the opportunity to spin the fruits of Minnesota's long-term economic growth as a statewide endorsement of Republicans taking control of the House just three months ago.
"I think that part of this economic confidence has to do with the fact that there's balance restored in state government," he told an incredulous capitol press corps Friday.
Pioneer Press reporter Rachel Strassen-Berger immediately asked Daudt to go ahead and expand on that notion.
"Can you reiterate that theory? The theory that this forecast is good because the Republicans now have the House and there's balance restored to the capitol? Tell me more about that," she said, wearing the amused smirk of a teacher listening to a student recount how the dog did, in fact, eat his homework.
Daudt responded by giving most of the credit to lower gas prices, but he refused to back off his dubious claim.
"I think Minnesota's economy understands that we don't have a runaway government, that, when we didn't have to raise any taxes, put in place one of the largest tax increases in state history," he said, referring to Dayton's successful push to increase taxes on Minnesota's top two percent of earners last session.
Another reporter (Pat Kessler?) off-camera pointed out that although Republicans took over the House, Dayton won reelection in a landslide victory with nearly one million votes. So isn't Dayton just as responsible for the surplus?
"House Republicans received, uh, I forget the number...100,000 more votes than House Democrats statewide," Daudt stammered as fellow Republican leader, state Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) fidgeted uncomfortably in the background.
According to a MinnPost analysis, Minnesota House Republicans actually received 50.4% of all votes cast for Democrats or Republicans in the 2014 election -- which amounts to a difference of about 15,000 votes.
At this point Daudt unsuccessfully tried to escape by shoving Hann in front of the microphone, but it was too late. The press needed more Daudt.
In the end Daudt settled on placing all of the credit where it really belongs: on the backs of all of the good, hardworking people of Minnesota. Then he tossed out a few red herring anti-Democrat talking points for good measure.
"Minnesotans deserve the credit...Let's let them invest in their lives for once, instead of letting Democrats invest in office buildings and commissioner's pay raises."
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