The framing of the state budget debate is not working for the DFL’s legislative leadership.
The issue is being put to the voters something like this: Should Minnesota be self-disciplined enough to “push away from the table” because we’re already so darned fiscally obese, or should we demand that society’s most successful citizens buy us more fiscal Ho-Hos? Should we “soak the rich” who are already burdened with the biggest tax bills, or should we leave them alone so they can “create more jobs?”
That’s a noose, not a frame. So far, give Tim the spin win. Hands down. The Republicans’ arguments have been simpler and, importantly, they have been delivered repetitively, thanks to talk radio, a wave of decent radio ads and the fact that they control the gubernatorial bully pulpit.
It doesn’t even seem close. In fact, the best counterpoints have not come from DFL leadership or hacks.
• It took a lonely letter-to-the-editor today to point out that spending, when adjusted for population and inflation changes, is actually lower now than in 2002-2003.
• It took a Star Tribune commentary to provide third party evidence that fiscal anorexia has not fueled job growth, the very foundation of the conservatives’ fiscal arguments.
• It took an obscure state Revenue Department tax incidence report to point out that the middle class are actually the ones being “soaked,” not the wealthy.
The truth is the DFL is proposing putting bread-and-butter back on the table, not Ho-Hos. They want to invest in things that, unlike tax cuts and fiscal austerity, actually do create jobs, such as early education and transportation. And they want to re-balance the tax code by giving the overtaxed middle class badly needed property tax relief.
But much of this is lost in the news coverage. And obscure Revenue Department reports, random letters-to-the-editor and wonky commentaries won’t win this debate for the DFL.
Maybe I’m missing something, but the silence from the left seems deafening. Some in the DFL leadership seem so enamored with their newfound power that they don’t feel the need to trouble themselves with aggressively selling their ideas outside the Capitol Building. Urban caucus leaders seem slow to understand how badly they are losing this debate with swing voters, perhaps because in their safe liberal legislative districts they never have to pay attention to anyone but liberal true-believers.
Good morning, DFL, this is your wake up call. It’s time to get ready for work.
Perhaps you should get caucus members informed and unified, and send them out to their local news media outlets? Maybe you should spotlight credible third parties to buttress your arguments? How about investing some of your 2008 campaign coffers on framing ads of your own?
If the DFL wants to have any real leverage in upcoming budget negotiations and avoid an electoral anti-tax backlash, it better get its PR act together, pronto.
— Joe Loveland