It’s possible it is a good idea to use state sales tax revenue from vehicle parts and car repairs exclusively for fixing highways and bridges. It might even be a great idea for Minnesota.
But it’s nowhere near a change-the-constitution idea.
Nonetheless, Minnesota state Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, is proposing a question for the November ballot, asking whether specific sales tax revenue should be constitutionally dedicated for road repairs.
Essentially, Newman wants voters to do the job he and other lawmakers were elected to do: Make hard choices about how money in the state’s general fund is spent.
Newman’s party has been trying for years to dedicate funds for transportation but has been unable to sell enough DFLers on the idea.
An end-around now, using the Constitution, is at the very least unsavory.
Minnesota’s sacred Constitution deserves better than to be made a political play piece. Sadly, it’s far from the first time the revered document has been the target of such perversion. Two years ago, DFLers attempted a similar move to usurp the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling. Other constitutional-amendment proposals of recent years, both successful and unsuccessful, have included funding for elderly care and the outdoors, the elimination of a campaign finance loophole, and policy choices concerning marriage rights and voter ID.
Constitutions are all about overall guiding principles for government. They offer a big-picture, long-term framework to help make sure our rulers make sound decisions and don’t trample our personal rights and liberties. Changing a constitution is a drastic and serious move never to be made lightly.
Deploying a constitutional change for short-term political or special-interest gain is inappropriate and demands to be rejected.
It’s hard to see how the Minnesota Constitution isn’t being played that way here, invoked after proper channels for lawmaking didn’t pan out. Critics of constitutionally dedicated transportation funding correctly point out that as much as transportation may deserve to be made a priority, dedicating funds for transportation means fewer dollars for other deserving priorities like education, local government aid and health care.
And already, the Association of Metropolitan School Districts is looking to follow Newman’s lead with a push to dedicate the state’s limited dollars for education.
That may also be a good idea — but nowhere near a change-the-constitution idea. Like dedicating state funds for transportation, it doesn’t belong on the November ballot. Rather, the choice belongs with lawmakers who can be held accountable for their decisions.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE