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Friday, May 23, 2008

Larry Schumacher's Take on the Legislative Session

He says it much better than I could.

First, I'll give both sides points for bringing this thing in on-time and with a bipartisan agreement. This seems to happen more in bonding sessions like this one than in budget sessions on the odd-numbered years.

Everyone's happier when giving out presents than when balancing the checkbook, right?

Except this year, they had to do both, what with the little matter of a $935 million deficit staring everyone in the face.

So props to them for dealing with both in the same session and still getting done. I, for one, will not miss the thrill of covering a special session.

But when we take a closer look at how they got done and what they got done, the props turn into jeers.

The last two weeks of the session were basically conducted behind closed doors in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office. Yes, we saw letters from both sides announcing offers, but ask your lawmaker when he or she figured out what was in the final deal and how it impacted their district.

If they weren't in the room where the deal got made and they tell you they understood what it meant before they voted on it, they're probably lying to you.

This isn't the right way to do business in a free and open society. And it makes a sham of everything that came before it -- all the committee hearings where citizens testified on bills that ultimately didn't have anything to do with the result, all the committee and floor debates on those bills, all rendered meaningless in the end.

Then, there's the end product. They managed to walk away without leaving red ink on the books ... this year, at least.

But big decisions were put off until after the election, again. How do we fund K-12 education and how much is enough? How do we deal with the spiraling cost of health insurance and its declining availability to working folks? How should the state's tax system be structured and how much taxes is enough?

These and more questions were left for the election campaign this fall.

Candidates had better offer answers to those questions, because whoever wins next year will face a budget deficit that is likely to be at least as large, and since they spent half of the state's rainy-day fund this time, it'll be much harder to fix next year's budget without drastic changes than it was this year.

Something to keep in mind when incumbents are running around this summer and fall, talking about the jobs they created and the infrastructure that's being rebuilt, or how they held the line and balanced the budget without new taxes.