Governor Dayton, What's Your Motivation?
Travel to the northern end of Interstate 35 today, and you'll encounter a land where state government has largely closed down. To hear the mainstream media describe the situation, Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, peered at a bloated and busted budget on one hand and a Republican-dominated legislature on the other. He took a brave stand and shut down the state government rather than knuckle under and give tax breaks to millionaires.
Of course, there's another way to look at the matter. Most on the right would see a tax-and-spend governor ignoring the clear will of the people in order to impose burdensome tax increases rather than make rational cuts to runaway government spending.
While I can guess which of these theories makes more sense to the typical American Thinker reader, their comparative merits are not what I'd like to consider here. Instead, I'd like to consider the motivation of the brave Governor Dayton.
First of all, we should give Dayton and his Minnesota House and Senate Democrat minorities some small credit. In their headlong charge toward a government shutdown, they have allowed state troopers to remain on the job. They didn't throw open the doors to the prisons or shutter the state's emergency response agencies. That much seems reasonable regardless of which side of the aisle one occupies. Other items on the open and closed lists, however, are less obvious and betray the real motives behind the Democrat tactics.
First, let's look at a few items that remain open in Minnesota. In scanning over a list of open agencies, one notices such items as "food safety work" and inspections for health care facilities. On the surface, these exceptions seem like no-brainers. After all, if they were to suspend food safety inspections, they'd have E. coli outbreaks all over the state. And without state inspectors running up and down the halls, hospitals and clinics might start prescribing opium for head colds and euthanizing illegal immigrants. Right?
More realistically, of course, food companies are not going to run amok when the keen eye of the government is absent for a few days. Minnesota dairies, for example, stand to lose everything to lawsuits if they become careless in their safety practices. Similarly, do the shutdown architects really believe that patients around the Gopher State will be dropping dead if the schedule of hospital inspections is delayed by a week or so? Frankly, it seems that public safety could be enhanced more with fewer (and lower-paid) employees by opening the closed restrooms in Minnesota rest areas than by inspecting health care facilities in coming days. What could cause the wise forces of the executive branch to make these precise decisions? Might the reason be more political than financial?
The reason for keeping food and health care inspectors on the job is simple. Granted, most Democrats have never met a regulation or a regulator they didn't like, but this tendency doesn't tell the whole story. The governor is also covering himself. In the unlikely event that something bad were to happen with inspectors off the job, the political fallout would be devastating. This decision had far more to do with political damage control than with public safety.
Let's examine a couple of agencies that have closed: the Minnesota Lottery and the department of motor vehicles. Correct me if I have this wrong, but isn't the lottery a revenue-positive entity? If the state has a problem of not enough money to pay the bills, then shouldn't it keep a money-producing organization going? They have kept the state tax collections people on the job, which also makes sense, but this too seems odd. If the state tax collection offices were to close temporarily, the same taxes that were due during the closure could be collected afterward. On the other hand, I hardly think that Minnesotans are saving up their lottery ticket funds to buy extra tickets after the closure. And if collecting taxes were really a high priority, wouldn't the state keep the DMV open? Apparently they can postpone collection of registration fees and vehicle sales taxes but not income and general sales taxes. How odd. Of course, when the DMV reopens, the citizens will see enormous lines from the people unable to renew licenses or register vehicles. This fact, I would suggest, brings us closer to the true motivation behind Governor Dayton's open-and-closed strategy.
Far from the governor's supposed motive of fiscal responsibility, again, a true political motive lurks. The closure of the lottery and DMV, money-producing entities, make no sense for the cash-strapped state. These are, however, actions that will inconvenience a large sector of the population. Not only that, they will inconvenience the lower-income groups. If the normal tax collection offices were closed, then those affected would include corporations and more affluent Minnesotans, the sort of people actually paying taxes.
The governor's calculation, following these facts, might run something like this: the unwashed masses of Minnesotans, the sort of people whose future has been mortgaged by years of Democrat overspending but who still believe them to be the party of the "working man," cannot relicense their car. They grumble about the shutdown. On the way home, they cannot buy their lottery tickets. With prompting from media, union, and Democrat voices, they blame those greedy Republicans. When they return to the DMV after the shutdown, they can stand in an even longer line than normal, all the while talking with similarly irritated people, people who have been listening to attacks like this one, subtly titled "Republicans choose millionaires over Minnesotans," from a public employee union website:
The state of Minnesota has shut down because Republicans refuse to ask the richest 7,700 Minnesotans to pay their fair share. Gov. Dayton worked tirelessly to find middle ground in an attempt to avoid a shutdown.
All of these choices sound like a script to initiate class resentment and conflict, but who can really blame the Democrats for resorting to this tactic? Their vote-buying munificence, funded by massive deficit spending, has pretty obviously played out as demonstrated at the polls. In 2009, Democrats held an 87-to-47 seat advantage over their Republican colleagues in the Minnesota legislature. In 2011, that advantage had shifted in the other direction with 72 Republicans and 62 Democrats. That's a move from Republicans holding 35% of the seats to 54%. Frankly, regardless of what the media or Governor Dayton suggest, that sounds like a mandate.
For Dayton and the Dems, the choice is between giving the people fiscal responsibility they request or playing this game of resentment and envy. Given their debts to the unions and other elements of the extreme left, the class warfare card is truly the only play available. We can only hope that Minnesotans will be perceptive enough to see this ploy for what it is.
Mark Browning blogs on rural matters at Shamayimhill.com.