Sunday’s episode of At Issue With Tom Hauser featured a debate between House Minority Leader Marty Seifert and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark. During the course of the debate, Tarryl said something that I found rather revealing. Here’s what she said that caught my attention:

It’s maybe time to look at everything. It’s maybe time that we relook at how do we stabilize our state revenue and look at how we can some things differently, and frankly, there’s a lot of spending on the tax side as well.

It’s difficult for me to think of taxes as spending. When President Bush first took office, the Democrats’ main argument against his proposed tax cuts was that they cost however many billion dollars. That struck most people as odd since most people thought ouf their money as…gasp…their money.

I learned that winter that that type of thinking is foreign to Democrats. That’s why I think Tarryl’s statement is revealing.

First, it’s obvious that there isn’t a legislator around that’s thinking about cutting taxes. There’s near unamity, if not total unamity, in the House and Senate GOP caucuses that tax increases shouldn’t be considered, especially before the legislature has gone through the current budget line by line.

Considering the fact that the DFL wanted to kill JOBZ, something that the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce wanted kept in the budget, I suspect that Tarryl is thinking that JOBZ as spending on the tax side. The good news is that, ultimately, the Chamber won that fight.

Here’s another thing that Tarryl said that jumped out at me:

Hauser: You can talk about reform all you want but reform inevitably ends up meaning that some people that are getting state services now won’t be getting them after this reform, whether it be in HHS, whether it be in education, early childhood, any of those things.

Tarryl: Sure, and an estimate, a good estimate would be that maybe we could figure out how to save about $500 million.

Tarryl thinks that we can only find a half billion dollars worth of wasteful spending in a $35 billion budget? That’s less than 1.5 percent waste, 1.4 percent to be precise. That’s an absurdly low total.

I learned that through personal experience at Fingerhut. During a difficult year, our CEO announced that the corporation’s goal was to reduce spending by 1 percent without affecting operations. I was put in charge of reaching that goal in the department that I worked in. Within a month, my team identified savings that reduced our department’s budget by almost 4 percent. We did this without changing operations one iota, too.

If there’s anything that’s guaranteed, it’s that any big bureaucracy, whether it’s found in corporate America or in government, wasteful spending exists at a far greater amount than people will admit. The notion that legislators can find 1.4 percent of the state’s budget in wasted spending says that they’re either terribly unskilled at identifying wasteful spending or they aren’t terribly interested in identifying wasteful spending. It’s possible that they’re identifying wants as needs which can’t be cut.

The bottom line is this: I’d be surprised if politicians couldn’t cut spending by 5 percent without people noticing.

Here’s the other thing that Tarryl said that jumped out at me:

Tarryl: Well, a couple things that we’re going to be doing is looking at how we can improve & make more efficient government services while we’re waiting for the governor’s budget to come out because the governor is the leader and we have to look at what he’s going to do.

Shouldn’t that be what legislators always do? Shouldn’t they always be looking for ways to deliver the same amount of services at a cheaper price?

Isn’t that why the legislature should conduct oversight hearings at the start of their budget process?

Here’s a partial transcript of their At Issue appearance:

Hauser: We’ve kind of lost sight of the fact that the legislature will also be convening this week and they’ve got a big job ahead of them. Joining me now to talk about that are Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark and House Minority Leader Marty Seifert. $4.8 billion is the projected deficit right now. It’s possible that number might grow in February. Hopefully, it will shrink a little bit when the next forecast comes out. What is the first thing you have to do out of the gates to get the ball rolling to eliminate that?

Tarryl: Well, a couple things that we’re going to be doing is looking at how we can improve and make more efficient government services while we’re waiting for the governor’s budget to come out because the governor is the leader and we have to look at what he’s going to do. We have to look at where we can be cutting the budget. We have to figure out a way to do that that won’t make this economy worse. We have to figure out how we can be protecting our citizens.

Hauser: Because the governor’s budget will come out in late January but before that time, Rep. Seifert, you want to at least get some work done, at least have some hearings, kind of get an idea on where people stand in Minnesota in terms of what they think should be done.

Seifert: Sure, sure. You know, I think the budget will be a challenge but if you look at the monumental size of this, we have to do things differently and there’s an opportunity for us to do government service delivery changes that maybe should’ve been done years ago but because of the size of this, we’re gonna be looking at what citizens think we can be doing. Do we need some departments? Are there some service delivery systems that we can do differently and how the cities and counties interact with each other?

I just think that there’s a lot of opportunities for us to change government for the better and we should look at this as a positive possibility in terms of reforming government rather than us just being in the doldrums. Certainly, there’s gonna be some pain involved in the amount of money that needs to be reduced but we need to talk about it as an opportunity, too.

Hauser: You can talk about reform all you want but reform inevitably ends up meaning that some people that are getting state services now won’t be getting them after this reform, whether it be in HHS, whether it be in education, early childhood, any of those things.

Tarryl: Sure, and an estimate, a good estimate would be that maybe we could figure out how to save about $500 million. That’s still not very big compared to what the size of the overall problem is. So we’re also going to be listening to what Minnesotans say. There’s going to be up on the Senate website a place where Minnesotans can come in and saying “Hey, here are things that are important to me. Here’s what I think we can do differently. We’re gonna need ideas from Minnesotans about what’s important, what we need to keep doing, how we can help make a difference in people’s lives right now when so many people are hurting.

Hauser: Is anything off-limits? I know in this first round of unallotment that the governor did K-12 education, public safety, military veterans’ benefits, some of those things were off the table. Can anything really be off the table when you’re looking at nearly $5 billion?

Rep. Seifert: I think when it comes to the parameters of everything that the government spends money on, everything is on the table because it has to be. But in our opinion as Republicans, the family budget should be off the table, the budget of those small businesspeople and those job creators should be off the table but everything that the government spends money on should be on the table for analysis, for revision, for reform, for right-sizing, because, frankly, that’s what I think is expected in times like this.

Hauser: I think what you were saying without saying it is that tax increases should be off the table. Is that what you were talking about?

Rep. Seifert: Everything that the government spends money is on the table but the average family does’t have money in their sock drawer for state government programs. They barely have enough money to take care of themselves at this point. So if we can work together like we did with unallotment — we had multiple meetings with the Governor on the leadership side, Democrats and Republicans, and people are looking for decisive action and leadership and the Governor showed that in unallotment in a bipartisan way and hopefully we can continue that as we keep whittling away at that problem.

Hauser: Can you take revenue off the table when there is no budget reserve left, when there’s no tobacco money left to go after, when there’s hidden money pots left in state government. How do you erase this without raising some revenue? Can it be done?

Tarryl: Well the Governor is even talking about non-tax fees so we’re not really sure what that is but we’re going to have everything on the table. Our former governors who’ve gone through this, Gov. Quie and Gov. Carlson, have said “look, you’re gonna have to look at everything.” It’s maybe time to look at everything. It’s maybe time that we relook at how do we stabilize our state revenue and look at how we can some things differently, and frankly, there’s a lot of spending on the tax side as well. So keeping an open mind, looking at lots of solutions — there’s gonna be some clunkers out there — but let’s also look at what we can do. To me, a real important piece to this is this isn’t just about this immediate problem but it’s also about how do we put our state on a good path for the future.

Technorati: , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “Taking Issue With Tarryl”

Leave a Reply