If there ever was a session of the Minnesota Legislature where Republicans and DFLers were needed to really come together, to push aside partisanship and work for the good of all, this was that session. Already underway when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the state, the session seemed to come at just the right moment.
While lawmakers did score a few wins, including funds to help out some of the Minnesotans hardest hit by the public health crisis, they, unfortunately, failed to finish other important matters. In particular, they failed to find middle ground on a bonding bill, the reason sessions in even-numbered years like this one even started being held.
Worse, once again, lawmakers treated holding a special session — basically, working overtime at taxpayers’ additional expense for their failure, or refusal for political purposes, to get their work done on time — as just another option always there, a part of negotiating. Special sessions shouldn’t be seen like that.
They’re too expensive, for one thing, costing taxpayers an additional $14,000 or so every day of each overtime period, according to numbers crunched by Citizens Against Government Waste. A 23-day special session in 2005, for example, cost Minnesotans an unacceptable more than a quarter of a million dollars — nearly $330,000 after adjusting for inflation — in overtime.
This year’s divided Legislature is expected to return to St. Paul in June nonetheless, whether in person or virtually, to reconsider the bonding bill that would responsibly invest to maintain infrastructure, public buildings, and other spaces and amenities used by all.
Despite the current financial crisis stemming from COVID-19, DFL Gov. Tim Walz and the DFL-majority House had proposed more than $2 billion in bonding this session, about twice the size of past bills. Just as unrealistically, Republicans leaders vowed no bonding bill at all unless the governor dropped the emergency powers he assumed in March to promptly, effectively, and appropriately deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Some center was found, but late Sunday, a $998 million public construction spending plan failed to garner the votes it needed for passage.
The words of Sen. Tom Bakk last week, in the final days of the session, were suddenly easy to recall: "The session will be a colossal failure if a bonding bill does not pass," the DFLer from Cook said in a statement exclusively to the Duluth News Tribune. "It's the real work of the non-budget year. Everything else ... is non-essential."
Not everything, especially not this year, and lawmakers can be credited for moving quickly and with politics pushed aside to approve more than half a million dollars to combat the coronavirus, including testing and treatments. In addition, even if it should have been taken care of last year, lawmakers also struck a deal to help uninsured and low-income Minnesota diabetics access life-saving insulin. And they raised the legal age to buy tobacco to 21, making statewide the numerous local tobacco-age laws. ...
But a responsible, economy-boosting, reasonable and modest bonding bill remains unfinished, along with other work. So Minnesotans can, once again, after yet another less-than-satisfying legislative session, call on their state representatives and senators to do the job they were elected to do and in the time they knew they had to get it done. Political plays and vilifying of the other party can’t be allowed to take more tax dollars out of Minnesotans’ pockets. Especially not this year.
This editorial is the opinion of the Duluth News Tribune's editorial board.