On state economist Tom Stinson's 26-year watch, this state's budget has been wildly up and, more often, discouragingly down. But whether he was delivering good news or bad, a Stinson budget briefing was unfaillingly professional -- dispassionate, thorough, nonpartisan.
His flashes of wit were so subtle and delivered with such droll manner that sometimes they were detectable only by those who know him well.
But with two forecasts per year and frequent appearances at legislative hearings and before civic groups (often with policy sidekick Tom Gillaspy, the former state demographer), Stinson became well known to many Capitol journalists and elected officials. They counted on him to tamp down the myths, warn against the fads and take the long view about the economy and the state policies that affect it. They valued his willingness to patiently explain economic phenomena to all comers, no matter how ill-informed. They respected -- though regretted -- his refusal to leak a budget forecast before its time.
In short, Stinson is a Capitol institution. That's why news of his retirement, announced Monday and effective at the month's end, triggered a felt loss in offices throughout the Capitol complex. Gov. Mark Dayton noted that Stinson, 70, had served five gubernatorial administrations as "an invaluable source of economic wisdom, sound judgment and common sense."
Stinson's successor is Laura Kalambokidis, who like Stinson will divide her time between state government and the University of Minnesota. She is well schooled in the state budget, having served on two major study groups in the last six years.
That makes her a Stinson student, just like the rest of us at the Capitol. It's hard to imagine his shoes being filled by anyone schooled by someone else.