High drama is unfolding at the Minnesota State Capitol.
DFL State Senator Tom Bakk, the architect of a $90 million swanky office building paid for with taxpayer dollars and DFL Governor Mark Dayton the architect of billions more in new taxes and state spending are fighting with one another.
The issue isn’t over how to protect your tax dollars.
It’s a power struggle between two politicians.
It’s a playground scrum worthy of its own reality T.V. show version of the PWF (Political Wrestling Federation).
The Governor thinks Bakk stabbed him in the back by bringing a vote to the floor of the Senate to delay $1 million in pay increases the Governor gave senior level members of state government.
Bakk claims he talked to the Governor about his efforts to delay the increases – the Governor claims he did not.
This “He Said, He Said” is threatening the ability of Dayton and Bakk to work with each other – much less be in the same room alone together.
At a press conference in which Dayton laid bare his disgust for the Majority Leader’s actions he said he trusted GOP House Majority Leader Kurt Daudt more than he did Bakk, and according to the Star Tribune, going so far as to say:
“I’m not going to meet with Sen. Bakk anymore without others present because I don’t trust his word.”
Now, the problem is likely far worse than what we’re seeing on the surface of the news coverage of this inter-party explosion.
Members of Bakk’s own DFL Senate Caucus who joined together to pass the amendment to delay the pay raise said they would have voted against it had they know the Governor opposed it.
State Senator Jim Carlson, a DFLer, said “If the senators had known that this particular amendment was something the governor did not support, I think you would have seen the vote flip…”
This unseemly intra-party battle really is about an election in 2016 when the Minnesota Senate, along with the Minnesota House, is up for re-election.
Bakk knows his Caucus is in trouble. In fact, he knows he’s in trouble.
The phones have been ringing off the hook at the capitol as angry taxpayers demand that the $1 million in pay raises – some as high as $35,000 for one commissioner – be rescinded.
While Bakk has never faced a serious re-election challenge he clearly knows that his constituents are starting to ask tough questions about Bakk and his leadership.
Bakk has advocated so strenuously to spend more tax dollars on perks for legislators, such as the $90 million office building for politicians, that one would think it he found a money growing tree somewhere on the Iron Range.
This, along with a newly re-elected, lame duck Governor proposing more taxes and higher spending, is giving Bakk heartburn.
He already saw the demise of the DFL Majority in the House in the last election – he doesn’t want to fall victim to more of the same for his Senate Majority in 2016.
I wasn’t in the room when Dayton and Bakk supposedly spoke about the pay increases the Governor was able to jam through without public discussion – thanks to a law passed with Bakk’s support and the DFL majorities of the 2013 legislature.
But, I suspect Bakk and Dayton had an agreement that the pay raises were going to happen.
Bakk claims he was surprised to learn that Dayton was going to increase the pay of his Commissioners in one huge chunk – he thought they would have been phased in.
Why would that make any difference?
Because Bakk is a politician who understands optics.
A series of small and incremental pay increases over a few months were unlikely to raise the kind of eyebrows that were raised when some Commissioners received a $35,000 pay hike.
It is a pattern with Bakk. A pattern that is obvious in watching how Bakk snuck through a $90 million appropriation for an office building with no public debate in the dead of night.
The less transparency equals less public outcry.
Dayton wants to claim the high road for being upfront about the massive pay increases he has given to a handful of already well-paid public servants.
Bakk wants to create the illusion he is protecting taxpayers by delaying the increases –rather than simply stopping them for going into effect.
Both men are maneuvering to make the other guy look like the bad guy. But there are no taxpayer heroes in this drama.
At the root of the bitter feud between these two powerful men is who should get to decide how much more of your money they get to spend. When to spend it. And, who to spend it on.
Both the Governor Dayton and Senator Bakk have a long history of spending more and more taxpayer’s money on their pet projects and policies.
So much more money that taxpayers themselves could be excused for feeling as if Dayton and Bakk have been stabbing them in the back.