Split government could cause gridlock

With the newly divided state Legislature, the University’s proposed tuition freeze could face opposition.

by Logan Wroge

Majority control of Minnesota’s Legislature will be split in 2015 for the first time in eight years, which could lead to gridlock in policymaking and higher education issues.

Republicans took control of the state’s House of Representatives on Tuesday, while the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party held on to the Senate. To overcome possible political strife, experts and lawmakers have stressed that elected officials will need to compromise during this spring’s legislative session.

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz  described the differences between the parties as an “ideological gulf.”

“I think that we will have a greater need to work across the partisan divide and come together,” said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who chairs the Senate’s higher education committee.

Democrats held the majority in both of Minnesota’s legislative chambers from 2007 to 2010, before Republicans took over during the first two years of Gov. Mark Dayton’s first term in office. DFL members reclaimed the majority in both houses for 2013 and 2014.

Schultz said a split Legislature doesn’t necessarily signal cataclysmic clashes between policymakers, but he doesn’t think it will produce a scenario in which they have “some nice, harmonious, wonderful compromise.”

Dayton congratulated House leaders of both parties in a statement on Friday, including new House Speaker Kurt Daudt.

“If we work together, we can continue to build a better Minnesota,” Dayton said in the statement.

Some elected officials aren’t worried about the upcoming legislative session.

“I don’t think it’s going to change anything except that the Republicans are in charge of the House instead of the Democrats,” said Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who is the lead Republican of the House’s higher education committee.

Among the things that probably won’t change are taxes. Schultz said raising taxes is “off the agenda now” — and some legislators agree.

“We are not going to be increasing taxes again, regardless of who leads the Legislature,” Bonoff said. “We are going to have to look at how we spend our resources, and do it wisely.”

With that, funding for the University of Minnesota and its proposed tuition freezes could hit snags this session.

“I think it’s going to be hard for the University of Minnesota to get the deal that it wants,” Schultz said.

Both Bonoff and Nornes said they support the current tuition freeze for undergraduate students who pay in-state tuition, but whether it will continue depends on available resources.

“Asking [the Legislature] to pay for the University to freeze tuition isn’t really freezing tuition,” Bonoff said. “It’s saying they’re going to increase tuition, and they’re just going to get it from us instead of students, and I disagree with that.”

Schultz said he isn’t sure the tuition freeze will happen. He also said more general appropriations and capital investment funds from bonding bills are “dead or on hold.”

In recent years, both parties have passed capital investment bonding bills financing University construction of new buildings during the periods they’ve had majority control of the Legislature.

Large bonding bills for capital investment are usually considered in even-numbered years. If there is a bonding bill in 2015, Nornes said, he expects it to be small and non-contentious.

During the last period of divided legislative control before 2007, Minnesota’s government was close to a shutdown multiple times, Schultz said. He said next year’s political climate could present a similar situation.

“I think the ideological divide is greater now than it was back then, and I think the potential is there for a shutdown,” he said.