Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Failing Grade for a Failing Legislature

I am an educator. Were I to assign my students three projects and they failed to complete them by the appointed time their grade would be an F. The same goes with the Minnesota state legislature.

The single most important task they are supposed to do in even number years is pass the bonding bill, They have yet to do that, putting them on mark to join 2004 as the only other year in recent memory when they failed in that task. When that happened the Senate was DFL, the House GOP, and because only the House came up for election, the GOP paid dearly and lost a lot of seats.

This year there are three major tasks before the legislature now–the bonding bill, a GOP plan to zero out property taxes for the businesses, and the Vikings stadium. Two of the three ideas are bad. The Vikings stadium is welfare for a billionaire and as I have pointed out scores of times, public subsidies for pro sports teams is a bad economic investment. Yet Dayton and Ted Mondale persist in spinning this fiction. Zeroing out taxes for businesses will–as the GOP concede–create future budget shortfalls yet they claim that the cuts will be made up with future economic growth. Welcome to supply side economics again. Only the bonding bill makes sense as a task to accomplish.

However, while these are the three items on the legislative agenda now, don’t forget that earlier in the year there was talk of reforming government as an agenda item. Where is it? Instead, this legislature has passed bills on abortion, guns (Stand Your Ground), and fireworks. In the 20+ years I have observed the legislature this is about the least productive and worst performing one I have ever seen. They might as well adjourn now. But they will not.

The bonding bill, which Dayton wants, is being held hostage. The GOP really want the tax cut and are indifferent to the Vikings stadium, at least the leadership is. They have announced that the three issues are linked and a global agreement has to be reached on all three before any of them will be brought up. This is a great game of chicken here.

In theory the GOP Legislature should have the upper hand. Dayton has two items he wants and the GOP only one. They are relying on Dayton caving on taxes in the same way he caved last year to end the government shutdown. They are assuming he will blink first. However, the legislature is up for election in 2012 and Dayton is not, giving him some advantages which so far he seems unwilling to use. Instead, Dayton says more negotiations will occur. These negotiations, it should be noted, are behind the scenes, sacrificing again in this year open and transparent government.

What is preventing agreement on these items? I put the blame first on leadership on the part of the governor and the GOP leadership. They seem so inexperienced even in their second year on the job. Second, the GOP leaders have little control over their rank and file and cannot seem to corral them. They are very divided on many issues but still united on the social issues and those which seem to matter very little. Finally, the DFL minorities seem to be giving away what little advantage they have by seemingly going along with a willingness to deliver votes for the Vikings stadium when their best tactic is vote against it and them blame the GOP either for giving millions to a billionaire while defunding K-12 or letting the Vikings go if no bill is passed.

Overall, this is a dismal session deserving of an F grade no matter what happens.


  1. David, I love you, but the only reason you can realistically rail against closed-door negotiations is because you don't like two of the agenda items. Open & transparent gov't in all things is a nice theory but in practice it makes it almost impossible to actually get anything accomplished in this era.

    Would you ever advise your students to lay all of their arguments, strategy, and tactics open for examination at the start and just say, "let the best one win"? Of course not!

    Beyond that, negotiations can't take place with 200+ participants. At a certain point leaders have to come to agreement representing their constituencies and deal. The public gets to have their say on the final proposal.

    I agree the #1 priority should be the bonding bill. But a public negotiation won't get us one.

  2. Josh:

    Dating back to the days when I was with Common Cause I opposed construction of public policy behind closed doors. I still do. Transparency is critical to maintaining public confidence and to make sure there is no improper behavior.