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Tipsheet

Minnesota State Democrats Engaged in a Particularly Absurd Display of Pandering on Gas Tax

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

It's absurd what some people will do in the name of political pandering and vote-getting. Minnesota state Democrats may take the cake, though, as six state representatives went on to introduce a bill recently, only for five of them to then vote against it.

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On February 25, six vulnerable Democrats, including State Reps. Zack Stephenson, Dave Lislegard, Dan Wolgamott, Jessica Hanson, Kaela Berg, and Leon Lillie introduced HF 4060, which would enact a gas tax holiday over the summer. 

Minnesota Republicans saw right through the effort, and also called for the gas tax to be permanent. GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller was quoted in reporting from the Associated Press:

GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, of Winona, called the proposal an “election year gimmick,” and called for permanent tax relief. Senate Republicans unveiled an $8.5 billion tax cut proposal on Thursday that would lower the bottom-tier income tax rate from 5.35% to 2.8% and eliminate taxes on all Social Security benefits. 

Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, of Crown, criticized the five Democrats for voting in favor of gas taxes during the past few legislative sessions.

“Now with inflation out of control, and gas and energy prices through the roof in the Walz/Biden economy, they’re pushing a desperate and temporary gas tax holiday,” Daudt said in a statement. “Minnesota voters won’t be fooled.”

It's not just Republican lawmakers, though. Peter Callaghan, a staff writer for MinnPost.com, also saw the effort for what it was. He tweeted that it was an effort to "reduce... political pressure."

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It looks like a classic move of trying to please everyone, but in reality, pleasing nobody. 

Here's where it gets interesting. On March 7, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R) filed a motion to consider the legislation. Callaghan covered the particularly juicy back-and-forth, in his piece for MinnPost.com highlighting "The art and science of forcing ‘bad votes’ at the Minnesota Legislature," shortly after such theater. Emphasis is added:

Call this one How A Bill Doesn’t Become A Law (but becomes a campaign mailer instead).

It’s about how motions are made and bills are voted on with no intention of them passing. It’s how minority parties, which are usually excluded from decision making, can use the rules and procedures to embarrass the majority.

...

That bill would declare a state gas-tax holiday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That 28-cent-per gallon tax break would save Minnesota drivers roughly $200 million. The money would be replaced in the fund that pays to maintain roads and bridges with cash from the state’s $9.25 billion surplus.

The proposal was introduced by six DFL members in battleground districts, seats that are expected to be contested and help determine majority control of the House next year. Several are from suburban districts that can swing from GOP to DFL depending on the year, while one is from the Iron Range, where Democrats have been losing ground in recent years, and another is from St. Cloud, which has also gone back and forth.

The idea of suspending gas taxes has also garnered support among congressional Democrats for similar reasons: as a way to combat inflation in general and higher gasoline prices specifically in the face of election headwinds for the party, which historically loses seats in a president’s first midterm. Gov. Tim Walz also endorsed a federal moratorium Tuesday and said he was open to a summertime suspension of the state gas tax.

But the concept has drawn criticism from within the DFL, with some in the caucus arguing that it would encourage driving, which contributes to release of greenhouse gasses. It is unlikely that if the bill came to the House floor for final passage it could pass without GOP votes.

...

The DFL majority could easily block the motion, so both sides knew this was an exercise. And both sides treated it as theater. While the DFL was the target this time, the party’s lawmakers have in the past used similar maneuvers — and might do so again. No reason, then, to get too upset. 

“Premium fuel, huh?” joked House Speaker Melissa Hortman when Daudt finished and before she recognized House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. The Golden Valley DFLer urged his members to vote no on the Daudt motion, quoting the minority leader calling the proposed moratorium “desperate and temporary “ and a “gimmick” when it was introduced...

...

Because the motion needed 90 votes to pass, the DFL majority could have allowed some vulnerable members to vote yes. But when the roll was taken, only one did: Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora

The motion failed and the bill was sent to committee, where it is likely to remain. The vote, however, will live on — in mailboxes and inboxes throughout the state’s battleground districts.

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Only one of the six above voted for the bill, while the five others voted against the bill the six of them had introduced. 

Worse, but then again, not too surprising considering what's been illustrated here, all six had voted less than a year ago for more than $350 million in a permanent gas tax increase. 

In a memo from last week, which I also covered, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) included Minnesota as part of possible "Opportunities to flip chambers."

"As Minnesota is experiencing record inflation alongside soaring gas prices, last week’s developments make it clear Minnesota Democrats are too afraid of their radical liberal base to provide commonsense solutions to lower costs for hardworking Minnesotans," said RSLC National Press Secretary Stephanie Rivera. "By voting against gas tax relief legislation that they introduced themselves, these five vulnerable Minnesota House Democrats ignored the pain Minnesotans are facing at the pump and showed that sponsoring the bill was nothing more than a stunt to save their seats."

Democrats in Congress have also been up to other shenanigans when it comes to gas and energy. On Wednesday, 218 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives blocked the American Energy Independence from Russia Act (H.R. 6858), after 219 of them voted against it last week.

Further, President Joe Biden on Wednesday also called for gas companies to lower their prices, in a tweet from his official account. 

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"Oil and gas companies shouldn’t pad their profits at the expense of hardworking Americans," the tweet read in part.

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