(Note: This analysis of the close of the 2016 session comes from Morning Hot Dish, our daily political newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe to the free newsletter, sign up for it at the StarTribune.com member center.)
It’s 1:30 a.m. as I write, 90 minutes after a spectacular failure on the part of the Legislature, as a $1 billion bonding package that also had $265 million cash for roads and bridges passed the House, though amid a lot of rancorous shouting, with minutes to spare. It passed the Senate but with an amendment to raise the debt limit for Hennepin County (or Met Council — wasn’t totally clear), which would have allowed locals the ability to raise the money to do Southwest Light Rail. But by then it was midnight and the House had adjourned. Poof.
Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt each blamed the other, saying they broke promises.
On the one hand: They have no one to blame but themselves. They had 11 weeks to get it done and wound up passing spending and tax cuts and then trying to do bonding all on the final day. Hundreds of pages of legislation, nearly $2 billion total if you add up the tax cuts, spending and borrowing, all in the final hours. Even if they had given themselves a couple more hours, presumably they could have worked it out. It’s like a team that starts blaming each other after losing to a sorry opponent.
On the other hand, it’s also quite possible they could never get to a deal because Daudt could not give anything on metro transit, and Bakk could not whip the votes without it. The conflict was insoluble.
So, for now, the incumbents go home without big bonding and road projects and quickly do whatever they can to blame the other side.
It’s doubtful the public will actually take a fine toothed comb to determine who was really at fault. It’s like your kids fighting about who started it.
But if it’s true the public doesn’t care about process, they do notice when important projects don’t get funded. So this is probably bad for all incumbents.
Then again, as we’ve said time and again, legislative elections are increasingly dominated by national dynamics, both political and economic, so it’s quite possible (probable?) that none of it really matters that much for those outside the bubble.
Oh, by the way: Real ID went down, too. House and Senate could not resolve differences on drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants.
On the upside for incumbents, the Legislature was able to figure out how to use the surplus, with $259 million in tax cuts, plus more tax cuts later, plus spending on new programs and additional spending on existing programs. There’s a long list of winners, from veterans with military retirement income to smokers and their tobacco suppliers. Plus rural broadband, prekindergarten, money for programs to close economic disparities for people of color.
After the House adjourned and everyone came back from furious media spinning and blaming, House members who are leaving the body this year made speeches about the importance of the institution, the close friends they made, the people they served, their families. Many were overcome with emotion. “Not all the work we do changes the world,” said Rep. Carly Melin, an Iron Ranger. “But sometimes it changes someone’s world.”
The most striking moment of the evening, for me anyway, came before all the drama, when Rep. Dave Baker gave final remarks on a bill to monitor prescription drugs. The bill intends to reduce abuse of prescription narcotics, which can often lead to heroin. Baker lost his son Dan to a heroin overdose and dedicated his work on the bill to him.
During the coming days, expect a lot of blame game and revelations about what’s really in these bills (tell me: firstname.lastname@example.org and @jpcoolican.)
And then on to November.