Editorial: Bad deal may be best they can do

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2011 - 9:33 PM
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Mario Soto of Shakopee is a rider at Canterbury Park Racetrack and held a sign that reads Save Our Future. A crowd of about 500 people who are affected by the shutdown of Canterbury Park Racetrack held a rally near the winners circle In Shakopee, Minn. on Wednesday afternoon July 13,2011. Area legislators joined , trainers, jockeys and affected Canterbury Park employees to discuss the economic impact of the state government shutdown on the Shakopee-based race track and the horse racing industry in Minnesota. �

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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(Note: This editorial has been updated.)

Using payment delays and borrowing to balance the state budget is something Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday he does not agree with, but would agree to, in order to end a two-week-old state government shutdown.

That offer in the morning -- letting him win the argument on how much would be spent in 2012-13, but letting Republican legislative majorities fund that spending without raising taxes -- turned into the "framework of an agreement" by late afternoon.

Details have yet to be determined, but Dayton and legislative leaders Amy Koch and Kurt Zellers vowed that they were "on a fast track" toward a special session next week and a return to full state government operations soon thereafter.

Their grim faces as they emerged from more than three hours of private talks told of the antipathy they have for the deal they struck. Throughout the day, legislators of both parties did not hide their disdain.

Republicans faulted the deal for spending $1.3 billion more than they wanted. But that spending will avert severe cuts in some government services that the GOP "no new taxes" approach to balancing the state budget otherwise required.

Whether they acknowledge it or not, the GOP's willingness to afflict disabled people with loss of home care services, transit-dependent people with higher fares and homeowners with higher property taxes is not in this state's best interests, nor, over time, in their own.

More pointed -- and more justified -- was DFL criticism of the temporary funding measures that Republicans proposed on June 30 and Dayton accepted Thursday.

Those measures would borrow against future tobacco lawsuit proceeds -- creating a recurring gap in future budgets -- and hand a $700 million IOU to school districts, hard on the heels of last year's $1.4 billion IOU.

These are lousy ways to keep public books in balance. They perpetuate an imbalance between state spending and revenues that has become chronic in the past decade, and heap risk and borrowing costs upon the service politicians profess to prize most, K-12 education.

The nation's bond rating agencies are certain to scorn this move, and react accordingly.

But as the Editorial Board said last week, the partial shutdown that began with the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 is so unfair and damaging that a bad deal is better than no deal.

More than 22,000 state workers and certain unlucky nonprofit and private-sector industries have been used as political hostages during the shutdown, losing income and livelihoods. That's untenable.

If this bad deal is truly the best Dayton and Republican legislators can do, they should do it quickly and get the full state workforce back on the job. Then they should prepare for the tough questions they will deserve to hear from an electorate that has been ill-served by both their protracted dispute and the deal that ended it.

Is this how the current cast of Capitol characters expects to continue to govern in 2012 and beyond? Has intransigence replaced compromise as politically acceptable lawmaking conduct?

Will shutdowns be the new norm? Will deficits ever disappear? And can Minnesota government still reliably function as Dayton said Thursday it should, as a force to improve the quality of people's lives?

It may be that some Republican legislators are willing to vote for more permanent revenue-raising measures as a substitute for one or both of the can-kicking proposals Dayton accepted Thursday. If that's the case, the moment for them to step forward has arrived.

If Thursday's deal becomes law next week, Minnesotans can be assured that another deficit is coming in 2013. Neither Daytons' nor the Republicans' original budgets were forecast to stay in the black in 2014-15. Back-to-back school shifts and borrowing against future revenues this year will enlarge that problem.

Today and next week, Minnesotans deserve to see their lawmakers doing more than arithmetic problems. They should see at least the beginning of a bipartisan effort to restructure and redesign government -- both how it spends and how it taxes -- to make it more sustainable in a state with an aging population and heightened global competition.

Thursday's agreement might end the shutdown. But it won't end the state's fiscal woes. These leaders still have a lot of work to do.

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