Our View: Scream it if you're angry: Lawmakers, finish your work!
From the editorial: "Failing to get their work done — on time and for the good of all state residents — has become a frustratingly regular and unacceptable annual occurrence. We citizens have every reason to be upset, not that it seems to do any good year after year."
Our lawmakers apparently need a reminder that the Minnesota Legislature used to meet only every other year and that they only started gathering in even-numbered years to pass bonding bills. Those spending plans responsibly invest in and maintain public amenities, things like university buildings, utilities, parks, and the structures and spaces shared by all of us. It’s like a homeowner digging deep on a regular basis to patch the roof when it leaks or to replace broken windows.
Even though this year is an even-numbered year and even though our public needs are perhaps as great as ever in our recovery from the pandemic, our Minnesota Legislature shirked its duty to pass even a modest bonding bill — among so much other work lawmakers failed to get done this legislative session in St. Paul.
Oh, but lawmakers came close to agreements, we were assured by Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders in the hours after the close of session on May 23. They just need a little more time, they said.
That little more time came and went Friday. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the Minnesota GOP and the state DFL still appear to be far apart on many details. Walz, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller of Winona left a virtual meeting with no more agreements than were in place at the end of session.
Completely unacceptable. Lawmakers haven’t even publicly considered a bonding bill.
In addition, legislators failed to finish a $3.9 billion tax plan and $4 billion in spending for nursing homes, schools, law enforcement, and other areas. That’s even though the state has an unprecedented $9.3 billion budget surplus that, without legislative agreement, will stay in the state’s coffers doing no one any good rather than being invested to provide Minnesotans the help we desperately need as we all work to get ourselves and our state back upright following the health and economic toll of COVID-19.
Failing to get their work done — on time and for the good of all state residents — has become a frustratingly regular and unacceptable annual occurrence. We citizens have every reason to be upset, not that it seems to do any good year after year. We continue to send elected state representatives and senators to St. Paul to compromise, to reach agreements, and to help us through responsible lawmaking and legislating, and they continue to disappoint. And then run for reelection.
Is there still hope for this year, for this session? Perhaps.
A handful of legislative committee chairs are to return this week to continue negotiations, as Forum News Service’s Dana Ferguson reported Friday. And while we’ve heard it before, the governor expressed confidence that by the end of this week enough progress will be made so he can call lawmakers back for a short, vote-taking special session — the shorter the better, please, to help hold down the running tab of overtime work that shouldn’t have been needed in the first place.
“It’s my hope that they’ll find common ground and what will really happen is we button up that final deal, have that special session, and get everything done,” Walz said to reporters on Friday. “I'm optimistic."
Fueling that optimism is that the politically divided Legislature did get a few things to the finish line this year, including $25 million for ALS research and support, an update to liquor laws so more Minnesota microbreweries and distilleries (including Castle Danger) can sell growlers from their taprooms, $750 "hero pay" bonuses to everyone from doctors to janitors who kept working through the pandemic, $110 million to improve broadband statewide, and a fix so Minnesota businesses won’t have to pay huge unemployment insurance tax increases stemming from the pandemic.
But it wasn’t enough, of course. Duluth, for example, was banking on state money for Spirit Mountain, the Aerial Lift Bridge, and the Duluth Armory. Local government aid needs continued funding. The state historic tax credit program needs renewing. And legalizing sports betting didn't even get done, in spite of broad support.
Advocacy groups representing educators, mental health providers, long-term care organizations, people with disabilities, public trades unions, and others have voiced displeasure over lawmakers' failures on the key spending bills and other unfinished work. Without additional funds, hundreds of long-term care facilities could close before next year, they warned. And Minnesota stands to miss out on millions of dollars in federal transportation funds.
We can all echo the outrage. And we can all remind our Minnesota legislators that they have a job to do, that they work for us, and that we’re not going to stand for tasks going undone session after session. Especially not in a bonding year.