There was perhaps no better summation of last week’s do-nothing special session of the Minnesota Legislature than the one from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities spokesperson.
“The special session was a train wreck,” coalition President and Willmar, Minnesota, City Councilor Audrey Nelsen said succinctly in a statement Saturday, just hours after lawmakers adjourned without getting much of anything done, in particular with regard to a bonding bill, law enforcement reform, and even COVID-19 aid.
And this was after their regular 2020 legislative session ended about the same way, prompting the expensive-to-taxpayers overtime.
“Between the COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturn and recent civil unrest, Minnesotans need strong state leadership at the Legislature now more than ever. Instead we got arbitrary deadlines, broken deals and partisan battles,” Nelsen said. “There is plenty of blame to go around for this disastrous special session. The people of Minnesota deserve better.”
Millions of Minnesotans are hurting, out of work, their businesses and local economies decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown initiated to slow its spread. The Legislature had an opportunity to distribute $841 million in federal COVID-19 aid to communities around the state. ... No one got anything, though, when a deal June 16 between House members and senators of both political parties was scuttled two days later when DFLers tacked on $30 million in unrelated spending. Republicans called it a “poison pill.” It certainly poisoned the bill.
“It has been 86 days since Congress passed the CARES Act, and local governments in Greater Minnesota still haven’t received a penny,” Nelsen said.
Millions of Minnesotans are also hurting — and screaming for justice and changes — after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody. The Legislature had a chance last week to begin reforming law enforcement in our state, and there was bipartisan agreement on measures to start moving in that direction. Rather than approving what could be agreed to, with a commitment to keep working on other measures, nothing was passed at all when a Republican-imposed deadline came and went. Gov. Tim Walz and others in his DFL Party chastised Republicans for not working until the job was finished.
Additionally, millions of Minnesotans count on the Legislature to approve a bonding bill in even-numbered years like this year to responsibly keep up and invest in public buildings, amenities, and infrastructure, those spaces we all share or count on and ought to be able to expect to be in good repair. But lawmakers couldn’t even get a bonding bill to pay for public-improvement construction projects done this year — not during their regular session and not during last week’s nothing-special special session. There were reports of a $1.35 billion bonding bill that was a compromise between DFLers and Republicans. But there were also reports of threats from Republicans to derail the bonding bill if Gov. Walz didn’t relinquish the emergency powers he assumed in March to deal with the coronavirus as well as reported threats that the DFL would hold hostage a bonding bill without significant police reforms.
... The end of the special session with so much unfinished work (was unacceptable).
Walz called the special session a “total failure,” which also was a spot-on summation.
Minnesotans can demand better. We can insist that the work done by our elected officials puts us first rather than putting party first. And perhaps we should keep in mind, with statewide elections this year, the old quote popularized by Robin Williams’ character in the 2006 film “Man of the Year,” that, “Politicians are a lot like diapers; they should be changed frequently, and for the same reasons.”
This editorial is the opinion of the Duluth News Tribune's editorial board.