Spin Win for Tim

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

17 thoughts on “Spin Win for Tim

  1. The Donald says:

    A $2.1 billion surplus isn’t a surplus?

    Pawlenty “forced” local govs to raise taxes?

    More school $ = smarter kids?

    $1 billion bailout for MN teachers retirement fund?

    $12 million to relocate the Schubert?

    $34 million for Big Ethanol.

    It’s not only a taxapalooza, it’s a spendapalooza.

    That ain’t spin my friend – that’s your DFL.

  2. Loveland says:

    Welcome The Donald. I think I just got fired!

    If a race to the bottom were the golden ticket for prosperity, why would the states with the highest income tax burdens outperformed the states with the lowest income tax burdens? Why aren’t the Dakota’s burying Minnesota in economic terms?

    http://www.ctj.org/itep/tncatoan.htm

    Also for a balanced view of where Minnesota stands in terms of overall taxation:

    http://www.mncn.org/bp/rankopex.pdf

  3. It’s all spin. I don’t trust reports from groups like the MNCN, because they benefit from the things they try to point out.

    Remember that if you rob Peter to pay Paul, you’ll always have Paul’s support. I would much sooner trust the numbers from a national, non-biased and non-partisan organization, such as the Tax Foundation, who have nothing to gain by spinning numbers for any state.

    But that’s just my $.02

  4. Joe,
    We don’t disagree on the GOP’s success in framing the tax issue. But I’d say if the letter you cite was the first you’d seen those points, you aren’t reading what I’m reading — or writing….

    Arclightzero,
    The Tax Foundation may not spin numbers by state, but just take a look at the commentaries on its web site. It has a strong anti-tax orientation that colors its assessment of all states that have higher taxes or are entertaining new taxes.

    http://www.taxfoundation.org/commentary/

    Pawlenty’s positions rely on assertions that are tenuously, and often disingenuously, connected to facts, but play better if the facts remain unknown.

    Finally, it’s an inherently simple position to do nothing. If you believe something should be done, you have t explain, justify and persuade. The problem the DFL faces is this: The state should raise more revenue, and the DFL needs advocacy from a variety of groups to build political support. But any coalition could never agree on what specific measures to advance, because many of them would have to be left out — both for clarity of the message and affordability of the package.

    Like I said being for “No New” is so much simpler.

  5. The Donald says:

    This argument could go on forever … But I’m suspicious of the cause-and-effect logic of the pro big taxers.

    The “Minnesota Miracle” has been attributed by Loi Sturdevent and Komrade Kramer to high taxation. How about the fact that Minnesota – until now – has never had a sizeable black or minority underclass, that we were settled by hard-working Northern Europeans who maintained strong traditional families, that we have a truly diversified economy?

    If high taxation is such a panacea, I always ask why Bill Clinton in the 90s asked the Japanese to lower their taxes, why JFK cut taxes, why Olde Europe has maintained > 12% unemployment for decades?

    Using the term “investment” is no less spin than “taxapalooza.”

  6. jloveland says:

    Fun discussion. I’ll have to agree to disagree with my friends about whether it’s fair for those who possess more to pay proportionally more, and whether some spendapalooza produces ROIapalooza. But, substance aside, here is my point on commications strategy:

    In an election season, if Candidate A is doing mass media advertising and Candidate B is not, Canddidate A is almost always going to frame the debate, and subsequently win the debate. So, it’s not enough for the DFLers to make their points in committee hearings and commentaries while their oppoents make their points via mass media. This is a centerpiece issue that will largely define the 2008 campaign, so I think the those folks would be wise to use some of their 2008 campaign coffers on advertising now to make ithe debate in Minnesota’s mini-vans and kitchens more two-sided.

    I imagine the DFL underestimates how one-sided the debate currently is and thinks it’s too early to be blowing their budget 18 months before the election. But the election is being framed now, and if they want to compete for the framing they have to match the investment their opponents are making in framing it.

    I absolutely agree with my new BFF, The Donald: Obviously both sides spin their butts off. I’m just observing, with admiration, that one side is currently proving much more effective at it.

  7. Lurker says:

    Communicating a message that increased or new taxes are a valid idea, no matter what the economy looks like, isn’t going to help the DFL. The message must focus on programs (and oh, by the way, once everyone nods in favor of the new programs the DFL can express how they’ll be funded).

    Funny this discussion is underway right now six days prior to the tax deadline date. I, for one, don’t mind paying my fair share. But don’t make me pay my share and that of two additional families on my block in toney Maple Grove just because I’m a rung or two higher on the corporate ladder.

  8. K Rove Jr. says:

    If I were Pawlenty’s GOP strategist, I’d run b-roll of Rukavina, Pogemiller & Co with a voice-over:

    Your family killed itself to make $75K this year and these Democrats say you’re rich and you don’t pay enough in taxes.

    Call your legislator and demand a stop to their insanity – and return the $2 billion surplus. Now.

  9. jloveland says:

    That would be a very compelling ad, But my understanding is it would be also be false.

    According to news reports, the higher 9.7% income tax rate would apply to those with “”federally adjusted gross incomes above $250,000 for couples and $141,250 for singles. House DFLers are proposing a smaller hike: Their new fourth tier would begin with federally adjusted gross incomes of $400,000 for couples, $250,000 for singles, and would carry a 9 percent rate.” The bill authors also note that “eighty-two percent of those who would pay more under the Senate DFL plan earn over $500,000 a year.”

  10. jloveland says:

    The Donald, I gotta strongly disagree with the point you made about previous prosperity being about MN being thick with white Northern Europeans, and that future prosperity is threatened by the emergence of “a sizeable black or minority underclass.”

    Wow. Maybe I’m misunderstanding your point, but if that says what I think it says, it’s a dangerous race-based assertion with no basis in fact.

  11. The Donald says:

    I feel a Sharpton-like smack down coming … but race and poverty have been undeniably linked in the literature for decades. If you don’t accept this as true, then we probably don’t agree agree on the likelihood of the sun rising tomorrow.

    For the DFL to assert that high taxation and big government is why Minnesota has enjoyed such a high average standard of living is to ignore the demographic realities of places like Detroit, DC, Memphis, New Orleans, Newark, etc.

    Minnesota has been lilly-white for nearly 200 years. We’re not brilliant,exceptional or innately better. Though, we have avoided the hideous and enduring legacy of slavery. This is how MN has funtioned as Keillor’s “above average” for so long.

    Sadly, the liberal Thought Police would prevent us from acknowledging these truths.

  12. jmaustin says:

    TD –

    Consider this a smackdown, then. The notion that you can make characterizations like “hard-working” and “traditional families” on the basis of race is repugnant to me.

    – Jon Austin

  13. But let’s get beyond repugnance and examine the claim, not just smack it down. Our reluctance to discuss race and class factors in our education system is one of the barriers to making real progress on the undeniable gap in performance between white and minority kids.

    Doesn’t mean race is to blame for the gap. I don’t believe it is, but the gap exists. If we don’t talk honestly about it, we can’t adequately address it.

    I don’t have data in front of me, but one way to counter the Scandinavian thesis would be to look at where school performance in Minnesota was pre-1970s. I believe there was a significant rise after we started investing more in schools. And as for the Detroit, DC, Memphis theory, look at employment, investment in schools, poverty, etc., not just race. All very different than here.

    Racists, non-racists, and the just confused all have a huge stake in solving this problem, and we have to start by figuring out what’s real

  14. And on the actual topic…. Joe, I agree with your strategy point, and your confusion about the substance of the tax debate points out part of the problem with the DFL case.

    No one is asserting that it’s “fair for those who possess more to pay proportionally more” unless you’re talking about the income tax in isolation. The effect of a higher marginal tax rate for top earners would make the effects of taxation overall more proportional.

    That’s a tougher sell, though, than No New Taxes and It’s Your Money!

  15. The Donald says:

    Quimby nailed it: “Doesn’t mean race is to blame for the gap.”

    The data is incontravertable. Those in America who are above the poverty line, irrespective of race, share three traits:

    1. A high school education and have graduated

    2. Waited until they married (at least 20-years-old) before having babies

    3. Came from a family characterized by a mother and a father at home

    Does this suggest that a child stands no chance of success if he/she doesn’t have these traits?

    No.

    It does suggest that a child has a 70-80-90% chance of becoming poor.

    Do, for example, blacks tend to fit this poverty profile? The data says yes.

    So why do I get beat up here for honestly and factually pointing out that Minnesota’s heritage is rooted in the three traits that virtually assure life above the poverty line?

    I know the answer – and it doesn’t bode well for free speech, or real solutions.

  16. Eastsider says:

    Joe, all:

    Good discussion

    I might modestly, and wonkinshly, add that I think the first framing mistake is to allow the talk of deficits/surpluses to frame what is for them NOT a budget discussion but a priority discussion.

    Deficits and surpluses are accounting terms that do not speak to whether or not you are making the right fiscal choices, just how well your managing the choices you’ve made. They’re about how your books are balancing. If state leaders, and or Tpaw if you prefer, low-ball important priorities but revenues out pace low-ball budgeting and matching expenditures you’ve got a surplus! The steak knives are in the mail!

    But the surplus does not mean that low-ball budgeting and/or spending was the right investment strategy. Adequate funding for worth programs is no less adequate or worthy if revenues come in below what you budgeted and/or projected. You’ve just got a deficit you need to deal with. You’ll probably want to return your steak knives too.

    People understand the difference between whether or not their checkbook is balancing and whether or not they’re putting enough aside for their kids’ education or their own retirement. Minnesotans understand that they can be balancing the checkbook but still worried about whether or not the investing enough in their future needs. I think that’s the simple conversation the DFL has failed to initiate in part because they’ve accepted, or not thoroughly enough rejected, surpluses and deficits as a legitimate frame.

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