Dick Palmer: Priorities obscured in legislative deal making
Brainerd airport manager Steve Sievek is not a happy camper these days. Unfortunately, too few legislators even raised an eyebrow when his airport was stripped of a renovation project that would have improved the operation of the airport, making ...
Brainerd airport manager Steve Sievek is not a happy camper these days. Unfortunately, too few legislators even raised an eyebrow when his airport was stripped of a renovation project that would have improved the operation of the airport, making it more user friendly and, ultimately, more profitable. Profit is a nasty word many of our DFL friends generally shy away from, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
On last Sunday's Star Tribune editorial page, Sievek was featured lamenting the fact that a plan to reconstruct a parking area for aircraft at the Brainerd airport was simply scratched from the bonding bill. Few legislators even knew it happened until it was too late (save the DFL powerbrokers who, along with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, reconstructed a compromise bill in conference committee). The eliminated $800,000 project was part of the semi-annual bonding effort that supports a continuing need to maintain and improve state infrastructure.
For the record, here is how the legislative process works: Identical bills are introduced in the Senate and the House. They go through appropriate committees in each body and, ultimately, come to a floor vote in each body.
Almost always, the original bills are changed in the committee process and end up with different wording. Even if a period is not placed in the same place, the bills cannot go to the full legislature for a vote until they are identical again.
The next step is called a conference committee, where a select number of legislators from the House and the Senate get together and amend the bills until they are identical; then they can go to the full legislature for an up or down vote. It sounds simple enough, but it seldom works out that way.
And then there is the other side of the legislative coin to consider. Most of these tax and appropriation bills each have hundreds of pages, and few legislators take the time to read the fine print. Of course, the powerbrokers know exactly what is in those bills. The bargaining and manipulations are conducted in the conference committee, generally behind closed doors, and the final versions too often don't even resemble the original intent of the legislation.
Then there is your local, well-intended legislator, who is worn out, weary and anxious to get out of St. Paul.
They have been sitting around for days on end waiting for the conference committees to come forth with amended legislation to vote on. Because most don't read the fine print, original concepts are often scratched from the basic bills and new items added and few legislators even notice.
Politics also enter the picture big time. If you are a DFLer or a Republican, you go to your leaders for guidance. You generally vote the party line and, if you refuse, expect an early retirement from the legislative process.
Minnesota needs to change the system, although the U.S. Congress and most state legislatures endure the same foolishness. If you have a pet project and you have whiskers, you simply slip an amendment to a bill during the conference process and few know the difference until after it has become law.
The Minnesota Legislature is an expensive operation that is currently out of control.
The current plan, enacted in 1973, introduced annual sessions. The odd-numbered year sessions were to deal with appropriations and a taxing formula to support the operation of a two-year government cycle. The even-numbered years were to handle bonding for infrastructure and to eliminate obsolete legislation. It sounded realistic at the time, but it didn't work out that way. The most dangerous concept -- basically waiting to the last minute to ram special interest legislation down our throats -- continues to haunt us.
I think we should stop patting our expensive legislators on the back and start poking our fingers in their faces.
What do you think? I would really like to know.
And on the lighter side
At one time Ole ran a dairy farm and did pretty well. He adopted a slogan, which he hung on the wall: "All dat I am, I owe to udders."
Dick Palmer may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com .