Is a shutdown the Democratic plan to recapture the legislature in 2012?

On yesterday’s NARN show, Mitch Berg and I had the opportunity to speak with the two leaders of Minnesota’s legislature, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, as well as our friend and former NARN band member Rep. King Banaian.  Mitch and I asked them all why the government shutdown occurred — a question none of them could quite answer.  The budget comes in nine bills, and Republicans had reached substantive agreement with Dayton on six of them, were close on two more, and only had difficulties on one, tax policy.  The last biennial budget spent just under $31 billion; Republicans wanted to reduce that spending, but ended up offering a budget that came in at over $34 billion for the next biennium, an increase (after adjustments) of 6% in real spending.  At the end, as Dayton refused to sign any of the budget bills, Republicans offered a “lights on” bill (a version of a continuing resolution in Congress) to keep government open while they struggled to reach agreement on policy.

Dayton refused to agree to the special session that would have considered the lights-on bill — and which will need to get called eventually to resolve the government shutdown anyway.  Why did Dayton refuse to negotiate in good faith?  Via my friend Scott Johnson at Power Line, Katherine Kersten accuses Dayton of trying to torpedo this session in order to give his party an opportunity to win back control of the legislature in 2012:

Did Dayton intentionally try to provoke a shutdown? We can only say that if he had wanted to, he would have acted precisely as he has in recent months.

Throughout the budgetary process, Dayton refused to give legislators the details they needed to take his priorities into account in crafting their own budget bills. He refused to negotiate on individual bills until he had seen them all.

The Legislature sent its bills to Dayton six weeks before the session ended, but he frittered away the time for negotiation. He vetoed all nine bills at the end of the session, so legislators had no chance to rework them to address his concerns.

As shutdown loomed, Dayton refused to resolve small differences and sign major portions of the budget, such as K-12 education, judiciary and public safety, on which agreement was close. The Pioneer Press called this “hostage taking,” not “compromise.”

But Minnesotans need to understand the bigger picture here. Behind Dayton and out of the limelight, DFL legislators have been playing for much higher stakes than a $1.8 billion spending increase.

In recent weeks, DFL minority leaders Paul Thissen and Tom Bakk have been glued to Dayton’s side throughout budget negotiations. Why? If Dayton — with the help of DFL legislators — could parlay a shutdown into a DFL legislative takeover in 2012, the political payoff for the party would be huge.

Dayton won’t face reelection until 2014, and the public’s memory of the current fiscal train wreck will be long gone by then.

But the Legislature is up for reelection in 2012 — just around the corner. If Dayton gets egg on his face for the shutdown, DFL leaders may view it as a small price to pay, so long as irate voters can be led to spread the blame to Republicans and to transfer legislative control to the DFL next year.

A 6% biennial increase seems like a pretty good offer of good will by Republicans in this environment; we heard from a couple of callers who were unhappy that the GOP increased spending at all.  One e-mailer wondered aloud how he should vote in future elections if both Republicans and the DFL were determined to continue spending increases (answer: vote for the party that increases it least, I guess).  What did the GOP get for its attempt to find a middle ground with Dayton, who wanted to increase the biennial budget to $37 billion and institute higher tax rates in the state already ranked 43rd in business tax environment?  An utter refusal to negotiate and a state shutdown that Dayton at one time promised not to pursue.

I’d say Kersten is on the right track here.