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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

May 20, 2019

Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 19

State Capitol compromise is imperfect but welcome

Leaders worked hard and gave up some of what they wanted to produce a deal. Bravo.

At very nearly the 11th hour, Gov. Tim Walz has struck a budget deal with House and Senate leaders, producing an agreement that, like any real compromise, offers mixed results for all sides.

Walz and House Democrats managed to hang on to the provider tax that undergirds the state’s public health services. The sunset of that tax Republicans had engineered in a previous session is gone. Although the tax is lowered from 2% to 1.8%, that it stays in place is a tangible victory for sound policy and will provide continued funding needed to provide health care to those who depend on it for their very lives.

Republicans scored their own win — they fended off the entire 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase that Walz had said was needed to repair roads and bridges. Although Walz’s initial proposal was overlarge, the lack of any new gas tax funding makes losers of Minnesotans who must drive on deteriorating roads and bridges. The alternative is to finance improvements through bonding, with its added decades of interest payments ballooning the costs.

Senate Republicans agreed to a $500 million bonding bill as part of the pact, most of which would go for roads, but there’s a potential catch. The minority House Republicans were left entirely out of the dealmaking, and their leader, Rep. Kurt Daudt, is unlikely to put up the necessary votes. Bonding bills require supermajorities, and House Democrats are six votes short.

Schools will see a substantial increase of 2% each year for back-to-back years, a healthy investment that falls a little short of Walz’s more ambitious 3 plus 2, but reflects, in the final analysis, a welcome consensus on the need for a strong educational system.

It is disturbing that a similar agreement wasn’t spelled out on critical federal election funds that Senate Republicans have blocked. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has said previously that the money would be released this session. We will take him at his word that the $6 million that has sat idle for a year now will soon be put to work shoring up vulnerabilities in this state’s election cybersecurity systems.

Congratulating the two sides on coming together is customary at this point. We do appreciate that they finally pulled back from the brink and spared Minnesota either prolonged fighting or, worse still, the government-on-autopilot that the Senate’s last proposal would have produced. That kind of end-run to avoid compromise should never be tolerated and, one would hope, will not be repeated.

Legislators are sent to St. Paul to make the hard decisions and the tough compromises. That’s the job, and it’s not for purists. Walz, Gazelka and Speaker Melissa Hortman worked hard to build relationships throughout the session and to keep rancor to a minimum. In their joint appearance on Sunday night, each singled out the other two for heartfelt praise and respect, and that was a heartening sight.

There is still much work ahead of legislators. Myriad differences on massive spending bills now must be negotiated by conference committees at light speed. Hortman tried from the very beginning of this session to change the dynamic that results in such chaos and dysfunction. She made some headway and should be commended for that. It fell short of what was needed, and we hope all involved will redouble their efforts next time. Hasty deals often make for sloppy outcomes. We can do better.

Minnesotans expect their legislators to fight hard for their agendas and principles, but also to recognize when the fighting must end and compromise begin. That is the essence of our democracy.

As lawmakers navigate the details, there must be no blowups or tantrums that derail this agreement. Those who didn’t get what they wanted will have another chance — next year.

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The Free Press of Mankato, May 18

Infrastructure: Devise a plan to begin long overdue repairs

Why it matters: Growing costs of crumbling infrastructure will cost taxpayers more in the long run.

Long overdue repairs to state and local infrastructure will soon reduce the quality of public life in Minnesota while costing taxpayers more.

That’s the only conclusion one can draw from an in-depth report in last Sunday’s Free Press that showed billions and billions of dollars in deferred maintenance in everything from wastewater treatment plants to university buildings.

State data shows Minnesota will need some $70 billion over the next 20 years to only keep up with deferred maintenance in roads, bridges, transit, airports wastewater treatment plants, sewer systems and university buildings. An analysis by The Free Press shows the bill for South Central Minnesota will be $4.1 billion to keep up with the repairs, and that’s not even including housing or local government requests.

The deficits in deferred maintenance hit home. Minnesota State University has for years been trying to get funding for a total reconstruction of Armstrong Hall, one of the oldest and most inefficient classroom buildings on campus. It would need about $95 million to tear down the existing building and erect a new one.

The 589th Avenue bridge in Blue Earth County over the Le Sueur River is considered one of 900 in Minnesota that is structurally deficient and needs replacement. About 700 people a day use the bridge to get to Javens Winery and other places, but it will cost the county about $2 million to fix it. County officials say the need for more infrastructure funding is real.

Onetime chair of the House Capital Investment Committee Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska told The Free Press some of these investments can be put off and other estimates come from biased sources who would get business. If that’s a fair criticism, it doesn’t seem like it’s based on a lot of facts.

But the data is real and so are the implications. Minnesota Budget Commissioner Myron Franz told The Free Press that continuing to ignore deferred maintenance will hurt the state’s credit rating.

In a report on credit ratings, S & P Global Ratings said “At high enough levels, deferred maintenance is a credit concern, and we think this will be an area of increasing focus in our analysis. Significant underspending in maintenance can reduce asset life and increase capital costs, pressuring a government’s future financial flexibility.”

Gov. Tim Walz and the House DFL leadership have called for a bonding bill this year of between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion. The GOP Senate leadership says they don’t want to do a bonding bill in an “off year.”

There’s a cost to not doing a bonding bill this year. Interest rates are likely to rise and inflation will only push the costs higher.

The Legislature needs to invest in infrastructure this year to give taxpayers the biggest bang for their hard-earned dollars.

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St. Cloud Times, May 17

Bills to ban abortion are criminal

America could well be on the cusp of not just outlawing abortions, but imprisoning women who undergo them and the doctors who perform them.

Even if women and girls are pregnant because of rape or incest. No matter the status of the fetus. And with minimal regard for the woman’s long-term health.

Let that sink in.

This is the land of the free, a country that proclaims all men (ahem!) are created equal.

Yet several states stand ready to rip away the autonomy of women — including women and girls who are presented with a life-altering dilemma solely because they have been victims of unimaginably horrific and violent crimes — and imprison them for murder. They could even get the death penalty.

And this victim’s prison term will likely be longer than that of her rapist.

Make no mistake — those are very realistic possibilities via legislation coming from Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and Texas. As legal experts have noted, the actual wording of several of these bills foreshadows criminal proceedings as a top priority against all involved.

The wording also calls into legitimate question the legal repercussions of, say, an ectopic pregnancy. Or a miscarriage after a woman was seen drinking a cola (caffeine is bad for the baby, you know). Or whether a pregnant woman would be treated as one person or two for public assistance. Or when child support would begin.

It’s no wonder then that they will be challenged in court. In fact, key lawmakers behind at least two of the laws have told reporters they were drafted with the clear intent to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

Overturning Roe, especially in this drastic manner, will do anything but actually stop abortions. Indeed, stopping abortions will never happen. Instead, the goal — as always — should be to make them extremely rare.

Key components in that approach should be — as always — fact-based, comprehensive sex education; easily accessible birth control and reproductive care; and a legal environment that fosters support, not intimidation, for woman and the children they bear.

Unfortunately, the collective message of these proposals is undeniable: Women’s lives are (again) being treated as less-than: less than a potential life, less than trusted to make intensely personal and important decisions, in fact less than worthy of any consideration, even when they might be girls instead of women or victims, not vixens.

How sad for a nation that wraps itself in a flag of freedom. How scary for women of all ages. And should these measures stand, God help the young girls of today, tomorrow and beyond.

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