This year was supposed to be different at the Minnesota Legislature. An enlarged Republican majority in the House and new, narrow Republican control of the Senate were supposed to translate into more GOP desire to exhibit an ability to govern. A DFL governor setting the last state budget of his political career was supposed to be eager to burnish his legacy and overcome the futility of the last two years on taxes, transportation and bonding.
Early deadlines, an open process, reasonably respectful relationships among leaders — all were seen as signs that the 2018-19 state budget would be enacted on time and in a manner that both parties can “agree to,” as Gov. Mark Dayton often says, even if they don’t “agree with” its particulars.
Regrettably, the second-to-last full week of the 2017 regular session concludes Saturday with much less faith in those optimistic notions. Lawmakers took a step backward this week. As Dayton and legislative leaders share a fishing boat on Saturday — as is customary at the annual Governor’s Fishing Opener — we hope they agree to a more constructive course. The regular session comes to a constitutionally mandated end on May 22.
Talks between Republican legislative leaders and the DFL governor were proceeding slowly but in the right direction early last week. On Tuesday, they abruptly ended. GOP leaders announced that instead of continuing to negotiate, they would send 10 budget bills of their own design to the governor. Dayton vowed to veto them all. But he was able to make good on that threat with only five of them. The remainder stalled in the Senate, where the absence of one Republican member was sufficient to deprive the GOP of its 34-33 majority and ability to pass bills.
That delay could prove serendipitous. It presents an opportunity for legislators to rethink the strategy they chose last week — and for Minnesotans to urge them to try a more promising tack.
Some Republicans said they opted to send Dayton bills he opposes in order to show Minnesotans that they “got their work done on time,” and that any blame for inaction belongs with Dayton. We don’t think Minnesotans will buy that claim. If nearly three decades of divided state government have taught Minnesotans anything about state budget-setting, it’s that legislators’ work is not done until budget bills are signed into law.
What’s more, most Minnesotans have grown weary of blame games at the State Capitol. They want lawmakers to spend the fleeting days on the legislative calendar fully focused on how to keep state government operating at an optimal level and a reasonable price, not on how to make the political opposition look bad.
To be sure, two subsets of Minnesotans — the activist core of the two major parties — may see matters differently. But when control of the Capitol is divided, governing demands of lawmakers the courage, maturity and patriotism to move away from the preferences of party zealots.
An unwillingness to make such moves was the chief cause of the last two years of futility and two decades of recurring gridlock. Despite all the ways in which this session looked different, that problem persists. Unless it eases quickly and dramatically next week, Minnesota will continue to suffer the ill effects of state government dysfunction.
To see how the Star Tribune Editorial Board would balance the 2018-19 state budget, go to http://strib.mn/2oEhrcT.