ST. PAUL — Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt walked in front of the cameras on Wednesday to celebrate — and give a sign of things to come.
“Minnesotans spoke very loud and clear last night, and they rejected the policies of Barack Obama and Gov. Mark Dayton, and they want a new direction,” said Daudt, one day after Republicans took control of the Minnesota Senate pending one or two possible recounts.
The new Republican Legislature plans to assert its power in a likely showdown with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor’s veto pen — even as newly elected President Donald Trump and the Republican House and Senate will have free reign to shape policy toward Republican priorities for the first time in a decade.
Here are some of the policy changes you can expect as a result of Tuesday’s elections:
Republicans at the federal and state levels are likely to move aggressively to undo part or all of the Affordable Care Act, outgoing President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment.
Exactly what parts of the law Republicans will keep remains to be seen. It expanded Medicaid coverage for millions of low-income Americans, set up premium subsidies for people buying individual health insurance and imposed restrictions on plans, including a ban on denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and an end to lifetime limits.
“It’s a very uncertain time,” said Jim Schowalter, president of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans.
Minnesota Republicans have big plans for health reform changes, too. But action may wait until it becomes clear what Congress will do to health reform.
Minnesota’s legislative session ends in May, so if it takes Congress months to pass a replacement, there might not be time to implement it this year in Minnesota.
In the short term, expect state lawmakers to pass relief for Minnesotans facing high health insurance premiums. They’ll also try to stabilize the market by trying to provide other options for the sickest people on the individual market who have been driving up costs for everyone else.
Some Republicans have also proposed abolishing MinnesotaCare, the state health plan for the working poor, as well as more aggressive efforts to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse in public programs.
In stump speeches, Trump threatened to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Following through on that is unlikely, but he could vastly curtail the department’s oversight powers. For instance, stricter “gainful employment” rules for for-profit colleges could be abandoned and Obama’s directive that transgender students be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity could be reversed.
Trump and Pence are both strong advocates for school choice, and that’s an area where national politics may influence the debate at the state Capitol. Minnesota Republicans have pushed for expanding school choice options for families, most notably by allowing students who attend “failing” schools to use public education dollars to pay private school tuition.
Dayton has opposed these so-called “voucher” programs and has worked to increase oversight of charter schools during his administration.
The GOP majorities in St. Paul will also weigh heavily on Dayton’s future education agenda. Another big spending boost is unlikely after Dayton and DFLers pushed more than $500 billion in education funding increases through the last two-year budget.
Reforms that give districts more local control will be part of the discussion as state leaders work to craft an updated school accountability system and work to overhaul the way Minnesota licenses teachers.
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly called for a hard line on immigration. “Build the wall,” a ban on some — or all — refugees, and deportation of illegal immigrants were features of his campaign.
While immigration is more of a federal issue than a state issue, Republicans in Minnesota in the past have also expressed concerns about refugees and illegal immigration. But none of their proposals are likely to get past Dayton, who has said it was ludicrous and swagger for Republican governors to attempt to control refugee policy and suggested that anti-immigrant sentiments are “un-Minnesotan.”
“Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. … They have no education. They have no jobs,” Trump has said. He promised to do something about that, but details have been scant.
In Minnesota, Democrats have advocated spending on reducing education gaps between white students and minorities, advocated jobs programs to help minority workers and suggested that policing in Minnesota is racially tinged.
Republicans have long argued reforms, not new dollars, are key to closing Minnesota’s notorious academic achievement gap, which many believe is at the heart of the economic racial disparities in the state. They have also been more likely to defend police action, while Twin Cities DFLers and Dayton have sometimes questioned it.
Budget and taxes
The biggest unanswered question about Minnesota’s budget is when the state will have one. The last time Dayton faced off against a Republican-controlled Legislature, in 2011, the two sides could not reach a deal and the state government shut down. Whether that happens again depends on how aggressive each side is in making budget demands.
Myron Frans, Dayton’s budget commissioner, said the governor plans to propose a budget based on his priorities but has instructed him to listen to Republican ideas as well.
Rep. Jim Knoblach, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said it’s too early to talk specifics. But Republicans will likely try to reduce spending on health and human services programs, which have steadily grown as a share of the state’s budget.
Cutting the state’s taxes will also likely be a GOP priority, including exempting Social Security income and veterans’ pensions from state taxes. Some Republican tax proposals were in a compromise tax bill that Dayton vetoed this summer. This could get passed in a special legislative session later this year, or its ideas could be revisited in 2017.
The federal government is likely to pass aggressive tax cut packages championed by Republicans, and may pursue spending cuts in other areas.
Even if the GOP Congress cuts spending, they’ll be confronted with a call from Trump to increase funding for one area: infrastructure. Trump ran on a policy of an aggressive infrastructure spending spree, paid for by tax credits, that could have a big impact — if it passes.
“We are going to … rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” Trump said. But first, he must win backing from a Congress that has shown little support for infrastructure spending in recent years.
In Minnesota, infrastructure is one area where Dayton and Republican lawmakers could find common ground. Both sides want to pass a bonding bill to finance public construction projects across the state. But Republicans want a smaller bill that’s mostly spending on roads and bridges, in contrast to Democrats’ preference for a bigger bill that covers a wider range of water, economic-development, building and park projects.
Republicans will likely pursue a long-term transportation plan based around using existing spending — not new taxes or fees as Democrats want. And their plan is unlikely to include money for light-rail projects, though it may give some funding to buses.
One particular light-rail project might be in for some trouble. Daudt said Wednesday that he’ll target the controversial Southwest Light Rail line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. Dayton secured funding for that line from local sources this year, but Daudt argued that funding was illegal. He didn’t promise to try to kill the project but said the House would hold hearings on it.
Brian Edwards, Bill Salisbury, Christopher Magan and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger of the Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this report.