Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials
Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 24
At State Capitol, good governance remains elusive
Leaders want a “culture change,” but 2019 session showed how much work is left to do.
After five months of a regular legislative session, Minnesota lawmakers spent Friday in what was supposed to be a one-day special session, called by Gov. Tim Walz to finish their uncompleted work — passage of a two-year, $48 billion budget.
You might be forgiven for thinking that would lend a certain urgency to the proceedings. Instead, the morning gave way to more closed-door meetings and may yet stretch into the weekend. It’s easy to overstate the disputes, secrecy and power plays that dominate end-of-session drama, and easier still to forget that such elements are present in every session. A few things, however, distinguish this session — and not in a good way.
Budgets have been written by leaders before, but this time the vast majority was shaped after adjournment. It happened in unofficial working groups, where there was little public notice and no notes of proceedings, or through Walz, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. The trio did line-by-line sorts on some bills and resolved disputes among warring committee chairs on others — behind closed doors and out of session. That avoided a potential shutdown, but it should not become a precedent.
Walz told an editorial writer that he was thankful for the hard-nosed, pragmatic talks that took place. However, he acknowledged they should have happened in conference committees, before the public.
He’s right. The missing ingredient for years now has been a willingness to acknowledge that each side must win a little and lose a little, because that’s the only way democracy works. Instead, Senate conference committee chairs often declined to meet when it was their turn. That left far too many details that forced the session into overtime. Complaints among rank-and-file lawmakers, lobbyists, the media and interest groups abounded, and with good reason. Should this continue, there is the risk that public meetings are mere theater, with all the real action in private.
It’s clear that even with all the other issues Minnesota faces, this state once famed for “good governance” has serious work to do to reclaim that mantle.
Some of that work should be establishing a larger role for the minority party. House Republicans, having been shut out of leader talks, were slow-walking the special session as this editorial was being written. It won’t change the final bills, because their Senate counterparts have agreed to reject changes. But a $500 million bonding bill, meant to ease the sting of Walz’s loss on his proposed gas-tax increase as a means to fix roads and bridges, may be in jeopardy because the votes of House Republicans are needed for passage.
Gazelka, Hortman and Walz made a good start in creating a different path. Hortman, who pushed for earlier deadlines, said “there has to be some hammer that drops” when the final push starts. Walz said he will make governing reforms a priority after this.
One thing they should consider: enlarging their circle to including minority leaders, as challenging as that may be. Early Friday, when Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk graciously put up the votes needed to allow work in the Senate to begin, Gazelka offered public thanks, noting that “we can’t do this if we don’t do it together.”
With that larger role for the minority, of course, comes some responsibility to make the process work.
Hortman has said she wants a “culture change.” That’s a good goal. But it starts with leaders — on all sides — pledging to work through differences and ensuring that their members do the same. That can require tough action, even replacing chairs who refuse to meet or hold hearings on major bills.
Analysis of what came out of this session will come later, whenever it ends. But add to our wish list a renewed emphasis on good governance.
The Free Press of Mankato, May 26
Legislature: Minnesota became better with bipartisan budget
Why it matters: The battle over the state’s budget was hard fought between Democrats and Republicans and the result improved the lives of Minnesotans.
While the ghosts of the no new taxes crowd haunted the Minnesota Capitol this year, reason prevailed and the ghosts were banished to the place they hate most: the place of compromise.
If media tend to focus on the negative and the ever-present predictions of gridlock, let us be the ones to praise compromise and the power of getting things done.
DFL Gov. Tim Walz heralded the final budget compromise as a “big deal” in divided government, carrying forward his skill of putting a good look on what must be an underwhelming result for Democrats. They lost on road investments, family leave and common-sense gun laws. Walz won on keeping the medical provider tax — albeit a lower rate — and more school funding.
Republicans called the compromise a “draw,” perhaps muting criticism from their followers that they allowed more spending during a time of surplus. They lost on the health care provider tax, withholding election security money and some abortion proposals.
Both sides can claim victory in assessing pharmaceutical companies some $20 million to help fight the opioid crisis. Both agreed on a reasonable way forward for the state’s troubled motor vehicle licensing system. Both can claim victory on lowering a middle income tax rate, though it was a Republican push that made it happen.
Those are significant wins that will make life in Minnesota better.
We applaud Republicans and Democrats for coming together to work for Minnesotans. Keep it up and carry on.
Post Bulletin, Rochester, May 22
State budget deal is the way government is supposed to work
Simply put, the compromise budget deal reached by Gov. Tim Walz and top DFL and Republican leaders in the Legislature is a victory for the people of Minnesota.
It demonstrated that public officials, despite stark ideological differences, can work together, can compromise and can strive for more than immediate political gains.
We’re not saying the deal is perfect — no compromise could be, given the needs of the state and the wants of the two political parties. Everyone is going to find something to like and something to dislike about this deal.
To give just two examples:
— Want to see the tax on health care services disappear? Not going to happen under this deal.
— Want increased funding for your children’s schools? That will happen under this deal.
By now, everyone has had time to digest the major parts of the agreement reached by Walz, Republican Senate Leader Paul Gazelka, and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman.
Each gave up something in the deal, but each also got something in return. That’s the way the business of government is supposed to be conducted.
This page was critical of Gazelka’s Senate and its initial refusal to budge in negotiations. But give Gazelka his due: When it came time to play the role of statesman, he was ready.
The same can be said of Walz who, in his first session as governor, proved that his reputation in Washington, D.C. as a congressman willing to listen to and engage opponents could hold true in St. Paul.
Not quite with the program at this point is House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who promises to make the upcoming special session to approve the budget bargain a headache for all concerned. “They created this deal on their own without consulting us,” Daudt complained. We believe Minnesotans prefer to see their elected leaders act with dignity and with the best interests of the state in mind.
“Both sides, when you have divided government, want to win,” Gazelka said. “Both sides didn’t want to lose. And sometimes, instead of win or lose, it’s a draw.”
Or, he might have said, it’s a win-win for the people of Minnesota, who can take comfort in knowing they have leaders willing to work together for the good of the state.