Was it election-year politics in hyper drive? Have the darker impulses of factionalism and resentment that are troubling much of the world taken root in Minnesota? And what happens now?
The failed 2018 session of the Minnesota Legislature produced $1.5 billion for statewide construction projects but little else besides ammo for retribution in November’s midterm election — a high-stakes affair that could threaten the Republican majority in the state House and includes races for governor, two U.S. Senate seats and several competitive U.S. House seats.
The Republican House and Senate and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton weren’t obligated by law to do much anyway in the off-year, non-budget session that adjourned on May 21. Given the backdrop of the election, an especially polarizing event with partisans itching to cripple or embolden President Donald Trump, it’s no surprise trouble brewed at the state Capitol.
The problem is that important business for Minnesotans went undone when, on May 23 Dayton vetoed a tax-conformity bill and a supplemental budget and policy bill. Together they contained most of the Legislature’s work since February. A public pension stand-alone reform bill passed unanimously and was signed into law, but a reform measure for the Metropolitan Council was met with a veto.
With the major vetoes, nothing was done to conform the state tax code with last year’s federal tax law, escalate the fight against opioid addiction and protect older adults from abuse — arguably the session’s top three priorities.
Tax conformity was No. 1. Consistent with their political principles, Republicans and Dayton naturally found gripes among the three bodies’ competing plans.
Outnumbered by the legislative majorities, Dayton should have signed the bill they delivered him, which included modest rate reductions in the lower income brackets as well as some corporate tax reductions he wouldn’t abide.
Failing to reconcile Minnesota’s income tax code with the new federal code will likely raise state taxes next year for many Minnesotans while vastly complicating the filing process. How many people who can’t afford it and shouldn’t have to will wind up paying hundreds to a tax preparer? It’s ridiculous.
This is government malpractice at its worst.
A key Dayton complaint was that the tax bill didn’t include, in the fashion he preferred, $138 million in “emergency” funding for school districts, many facing budget cuts and layoffs. The money shortage is a symptom of the chronic mismatch between general education funding and escalating school costs. It’s unfortunate, but not an emergency. Districts have been here many times.
But maybe Republicans should have taken the governor at his word. For weeks before the adjournment date, Dayton insisted he wouldn’t hesitate to veto both the tax and budget and bills were they not to his liking.
Detente was in short supply as Republicans larded the nearly 1,000-page budget bill with poison pellets sure to repel the governor alongside policy measures the two sides might at least nominally agree on.
Hoping to leverage concessions from Dayton, they avoided presenting stand-alone bills on topics of agreement. Instead they found that a retiring two-term governor presiding over his last legislative session wouldn’t play their game.
The veto wiped out new state funding for opioid treatment and prevention. To their credit, Dayton and the DFL had insisted on a small contribution from pharmaceutical companies, but intense industry lobbying is blamed for squelching that.
Measures to prevent abuse of senior citizens by people hired to care for them were lost in the veto; a Dayton proposal to license assisted-living facilities never made it into the budget bill. Proponents are vowing to try again.
Other measures went begging by veto or otherwise. A hands-free driving bill fired, soon fizzled, when some conservative Republicans objected. Commonsense gun restrictions went nowhere, but a halfway measure proposed by a pair of Republican House measures late in the session suggests they believe guns could be a potent wedge in the campaign.
Lawmakers included $28 million for school safety programs, including mental health grants and school security audits. It was vetoed with the budget bill.
It was on May 30 when Gov. Dayton signed the $1.5 billion bill for public works projects – the so-called bonding bill. It includes $25 million for security improvements to school buildings. In signing the bill, Dayton complained that too little of the money – $825 million – comes from general obligation borrowing and too much from “raiding” existing funds, including the state’s environmental trust fund and budget reserve.
An opinion of the Adams Publishing-ECM Editorial Board. The Union-Times is part of APG-ECM. Reactions welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.