The 2011-12 Legislature has wrapped up business; legislators are returning home to their constituents. It is time to turn to an important question: What next?
Over the next several months, Minnesotans will wrestle with the results of the last two years and decide whether to vote for more of the same.
When faced with the facts, I believe Minnesotans will agree that it's time for a change.
In 2010, Republicans promised an end to "business as usual" if they were elected. Yet the last two years have been marked by their striking unwillingness to compromise, which led to gridlock and the longest state government shutdown in our history.
Republican House Majority Leader Matt Dean even bragged that the Republicans "won the shutdown" -- ignoring the fact that 19,000 Minnesotans were laid off, state parks were closed and Minnesota's reputation as a "state that works" was tarnished.
The Republicans ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, but failed to deliver. The budget they passed to end the shutdown borrowed record amounts, including $2.7 billion from our schools, and for the first time in state history engaged in Washington D.C.-style deficit spending to cover up the state's budget hole by borrowing from future state revenues.
Now the Republicans are claiming they took a state budget deficit and turned it into a surplus. But the facts tell a different story.
In February 2011, when the Republicans took charge, the budget deficit was about $5 billion. In January 2013, when the next Legislature returns to St. Paul, the budget deficit will be more than $4 billion.
Most Minnesotans are appalled to learn that even after our historic state government shutdown last year, we still didn't come close to solving our structural budget problem.
The Republicans also campaigned on jobs, but did little to back their words with action. It took the Democrats in the Legislature to step up and lead on job creation, putting up the majority of votes (despite the DFL's minority status) for the only two major jobs bills to pass in 2012 -- bills that will put tens of thousands of Minnesotans to work, particularly in the hard-hit construction industry.
In the end, the 2011-12 Legislature will be remembered for misplaced priorities and missed opportunities.
Instead of working with the governor and legislative Democrats to create jobs and grow our economy, Republicans focused on unnecessary and divisive constitutional amendments and pushed policies that would only tighten the squeeze on middle-class Minnesotans.
They refused to close corporate tax loopholes or ask the richest Minnesotans to pay their fair share, choosing instead to raise property taxes on homeowners, seniors, farmers and small businesses to the tune of $370 million by eliminating the homestead credit.
But perhaps what should alarm Minnesotans most is that Republicans are hitting the campaign trail explicitly promising more of the same. Indeed, when asked why our state government has suffered such gridlock for the last two years, Republican Speaker Kurt Zellers said "voters got what they asked for." I beg to differ.
As Minnesotans, we can once again rise to the challenge, but it will take a fresh approach and new leadership. And if we desire to move forward and choose to elect a DFL Legislature, you can expect something different.
Minnesotans deserve a Legislature that will focus on the real challenges faced by middle-class families: higher property taxes, skyrocketing tuition and fees, underfunded schools and overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of good-paying jobs that provide a pathway to a stable career.
A DFL majority would ditch the tunnel-vision policies that put corporations and big business interests ahead of middle-class Minnesotans. The Republican "trickle down" economic policies of the past have failed.
We need real, comprehensive tax reform that will make Minnesota businesses more economically competitive and prosperous, but will also make our tax system fairer and simpler. We will work to lower property taxes for middle-class Minnesotans, provide competitive tax rates for Minnesota small businesses, and close corporate tax giveaways that are expensive and unnecessary.
A DFL majority would make education a top priority once again --not only with a plan to fully pay back the billions owed to our kids and their schools, but a focus on getting great teachers in front of smaller-sized classes, a commitment to early childhood education, and investment in our colleges and universities instead of the Republicans' historic cuts.
Finally, a DFL majority would solve, once and for all, our state's structural budget problem in the balanced way that most Minnesotans say they support, rather than pushing it off another year -- or more.
It's time for a new direction. It should be forward.
Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, is the minority leader in the Minnesota House.