ECM Editorial: A dismal season for our state’s leadership team

 

It’s been a disappointing season. The record is bad, there seems to be no unity or teamwork. It’s tough being a Minnesotan right now.ECMEditorial_Q

No – we aren’t talking about the Twins, although the previous statements hold true. We are talking about the team of the Minnesota Legislature.

For the second year in a row, our state’s leaders bickered for 11 weeks, tried to rush through a compromise in the bottom of the ninth, and both sides ended up walking off the field at midnight May 22 with very little accomplished.

It is intensively disappointing that no comprehensive transportation package was approved.

It was also very frustrating that no bonding bill passed. It can be tough to prioritize – taking $5 billion or $6 billion in requests and sifting it down to the most urgent – but a scaled-down bill could have been acceptable to all sides.

The Legislature was not totally shut out, with several major pieces of legislation approved. A tax relief bill totaling $260 million offers breaks to veterans, families funding 529 plans, students with college loans, and property tax cuts for farmers and small business.

Legislators agreed to a $300 million spending bill, using some of the state’s $900 million budget surplus. It includes $35 million for a racial equity plan, expansion to rural broadband infrastructure and additional funding for a grant program for preschool programs for low-income families.

Lawmakers agreed to create a presidential primary, receiving bipartisan support from both party’s leadership.

Both houses approved regulation of police body camera video but opponents are urging Gov. Mark Dayton to veto the bill because it gives the public very little access to camera footage. Critics say the bill is way too favorable for police and is not in the public’s interest.

While we are pleased to see the tax bill and spending bill pass – both contain items the Editorial Board has supported – we are also concerned with the bill on the body camera access. Speaking against the bill, Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson said the bill gives almost no public access to body camera footage.

Overriding those small successes is the lack of action on transportation and bonding, a great disappointment to all.

Republicans and Democrats could not come to any agreement on long-term funding solutions for future transportation needs. State officials and both parties agree that some $600 million a year, $6 billion over 10 years, is needed for infrastructure repairs and essential upgrades. Republicans wanted to dedicate sales tax from auto parts and repairs and from car rentals for transportation; the DFL held to its proposal for an increase in the gas tax. Either option seems better than no action at all.

We need a long-term plan and funding sources to address serious infrastructure issues and to develop a system that can serve our population well into the future.

Many items in the bonding bill are essential. Both St. Peter and Anoka state security hospitals are in dire need of repairs, updates and better staffing. Many outstate cities were hoping for funds to repair failing water and sewer systems. State buildings need new roofs and energy improvements. Several vital road and bridge projects could have moved ahead with bonding funds.

The bonding bill’s failure came down to the deep divide over Southwest Light Rail. This should not be a surprise to anyone. When the ECM Editorial Board met with state leaders in April, both sides were clear. House Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt said he would not under any circumstances support light rail funding. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk was equally succinct: The Senate DFL would not support any bonding bill that did not include the final funding allocation to SWLRT.

In the end, both were true to their word. A compromise bonding bill died in the final minutes of the session, when the Senate tacked on SWLRT funds to the compromise, giving Hennepin County taxing authority to cover the final costs. The House Republican leadership said no, and headed home.

We urge both parties to refrain from pointing fingers – both sides could have listened more and compromised along the way to create bills that were palatable to all and addressed the most urgent state needs.

Gov. Dayton should call a special session in a few weeks, after emotions have cooled and after state leaders reach agreement on bonding and transportation. Transit needs to be an essential part of that solution along with roads and bridges.

With all members of the Legislature up for election this fall, we firmly believe that the public will respond, saying any action is better than none. Failure to address our state’s most dramatic needs will certainly lead to voters expressing their dissatisfaction on Nov. 8.

It’s time for legislative teamwork. That’s what Minnesotans want and deserve.

– An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board

 

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