by Sen. Kevin Dahle
As has been well-reported, the legislative process has some serious flaws. When last-minute negotiations keep both legislators and the public in the dark, it’s clear that the transparency and accessibility we value in government is harmed. While I’m pleased with the progress made on some of our work this year, my biggest takeaway over the last two years in particular has been that the Minnesota Legislature needs reform.
Working in divided government is difficult, and often for good reason – it forces legislators to compromise and find areas of agreement despite partisan differences. We were successful in that on both the tax bill and the supplemental budget bill this year. A tax bill was passed with a strong bipartisan majority, and it will provide tax relief for working Minnesotans, including $258 million next year and $544 million in the following two years. An expansion of the working families tax credit joins a student debt tax credit and property tax relief for businesses and farmers in the final bill.
The supplemental budget we passed is another example of legislative success in divided government. The bill invests in voluntary pre-K programs, and my bipartisan Teacher Shortage Act was included as well, which will help rural school districts attract and retain quality teachers in shortage areas like math and special education. I’m particularly pleased that $35 million was pledged for both high-speed internet (broadband) in Greater Minnesota, and for addressing economic disparities for Minnesotans of color in all parts of the state.
However, the failure to pass a transportation bill, a REAL ID bill and a bonding bill, despite all parties knowing the great need, clearly shows that the rules we have in place don’t always work.
I have faith that the ongoing negotiations were on a path to a compromise – both Speaker Daudt and Majority Leader Bakk have said as much. They simply ran out of time.
The Minnesota Constitution is very clear on when the legislature must finish its work. We have known the ending date and time for the 2016 session since the constitution was enacted, and have no excuse for not having bills ready in time. High-level, secret negotiations in the last hours of session do an injustice to the constitutional democracy I teach high school students about in my role as a civics teacher.
I am a strong supporter of what has become known as the “Fourth Deadline” idea, sponsored by the bipartisan Purple Caucus, which would put a bright clear line on the calendar. It would force elected officials to give their colleagues, the press and the public enough time to read the bills thoughtfully and come to a responsible conclusion before session ends. This will keep negotiations from spiraling out of control, limit political gamesmanship and dramatically increase the transparency of our political system.
I am convinced that we would have had a REAL ID bill and a public works bill if this deadline had been put in place for this session. There are certainly things to celebrate this year, and Minnesota is still on the right track. We need to work together, with both parties, to ensure that we stay there.