Tina Smith is running for governor by spending taxpayer funds with giveaway to her core constituency: government unions

Lt. Governor Tina Smith wants to be our next governor. The relentlessly cheerful campaign, which is conducted out of Governor Dayton’s office, began years ago. Now the pace has picked up as she and Dayton scramble to protect their allies and lock in policies before facing a resolutely more conservative Senate and House next term. She is also spending other people’s money to benefit a core constituency: state employees.

Before joining the Dayton administration, Tina Smith, was chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. And before that vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota & South Dakota. You can read an analysis of her career at Planned Parenthood here.

Planned Parenthood is a partner of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The SEIU endorsed Governor Mark Dayton in 2010 and Dayton/Smith in 2014. SEIU recently endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in 2016, spending at least $50 million in the 2016 election cycle.

On Wednesday, the Dayton Smith administration gave away 6 weeks of paid parental leave to all state employees—without negotiating the benefit with government unions (to get something in return?) or asking the House of Representatives to approve the amendment and permanent increase in state spending.

Smith and Dayton just issued a “memorandum of understanding.” Is that like an executive order? Whatever it is, it is not legislation. The memorandum for now has “interim” status. The administration cannot, on its own, make this permanent unless the legislature passes a law making this a benefit.  But they are certainly betting that even a GOP controlled legislature will be tempted to let this slide, or failing that, it’s just good politics for Smith in advance of her official run for governor as she competes in the potentially crowded DFL arena.

Since the ground troops for DFL campaigns are paid for and come from government unions, Smith is making a big down payment on her endorsement.

Here is the Lt. Governor’s bold sales pitch to state employees: “Saving Parents an Average of Nearly $6,200 – Giving up six weeks of pay would cost the average state employee nearly $6,200 in income, at a time when they need it most. By providing paid parental leave, these parents can continue earning that income, while caring for their families”

That’s great for state employees but this is not the proper way, or the best way, for the state to do business with its 32,000 plus employees. Most of whom are in a union, by the way.

Six weeks of paid family leave might be or might not be a terrific policy. But once it is in place, it will be a permanent benefit and permanent increase in state spending. That is not the kind of benefit politicians try to take away.

Since the state has not budgeted for this, how does Smith plan to pay for it? Or is this the
“promise now, find the money later” model of governance?

Smith claims it will only cost Minnesota taxpayers $2 million a year, plus another $6 million for MNSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities). The estimate for MNSCU seems to be more credible than $2 million for the state. Doesn’t the state have more employees than MNSCU?

How did this come about? According to Smith: “This initiative is based on the recommendations of the state’s Parental Leave Working Group, which was formed in 2015 and consists of representatives of state agencies and state employees. Providing paid parental leave will cost the state of Minnesota about $2 million a year.” (emphasis added)

So a group of state employees got together and figured out they wanted 6 weeks of paid parental leave. Were there any state legislators or taxpayers in that “Parental Leave Working Group?” Or do they now just openly self-deal?

If Republicans decide to let this slide rather than explain why they “denied state employees parental leave” (imagine the headlines), the best outcome may be that they use this as a bargaining chip to get something else.

I have an idea: how about paycheck protection for state employees? That would mean that the state would stop collecting union dues for government unions like Education Minnesota and SEIU that fund mostly DFL candidates and policies anyway. Now that might be a win-win.