The 2013 Legislature has been on hiatus for more than five weeks -- so it's time for an organized call for a special session. That chorus rose at the Capitol Thursday from a half-dozed House minority Republicans and several business folk adversely affected by the Legislature's extension of the sales tax to warehousing services, effective next April 1.
That's an ill-conceived tax, as the Star Tribune explained shortly after this year's regular session ended. It hammers an industry that's quite prone to relocating to avoid the tax, taking thousands of jobs with it. The warehousing sales tax is ripe for repeal whenever the Legislature is back in business, either next Feb. 25, as currently scheduled, or earlier via special session.
Stephen Lawrence of Lawrence Transportation Services, with four locations in southeastern Minnesota that sit very close to Wisconsin, pleaded for elimination of the tax threat before next February. As long as it's on the books, he'll consider relocating. "We don't know what to do next," he said.
The chief spokesman for the special session appeal was GOP Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing, where Red Wing Shoes has said it will put on hold planning for a new $20 million distribution center in Minnesota. That facility would add 80 jobs and store 600,000 pairs of shoes, said company warehouse manager John Sachen, a recent unsuccessful mayoral candidate in Red Wing.
Their appeals for an early remedy reminded me of others I've heard in other years. Invariably, unintended consequences appear after omnibus bills go into the books. Hastily hatched bills turn out to contain unpleasant surprises or just plain mistakes. And most years, summer brings unforeseen events that call for a response from state government. Minnesota has seen plenty of natural disaster-related special sessions in the past decade.
Gov. Mark Dayton has taken to calling the regular legislative assemblage in 2014 the "unsession," devoted at least in part to the repeal of outdated laws. How about an "oops" session? It would be a week or two in the fall of odd-numbered (non-election) years, devoted to correcting legislative goofs, responding to summer events, disastrous and otherwise, and getting a jump on committee work for the coming year. It would not be dependent on a gubernatorial call to function, but would be time-limited, to prevent malingering at taxpayer expense.
Minnesota's legislative calendar was last altered 42 years ago with a switch to annual rather than biennial sessions. But the calendar otherwise reflects the 19th century notion that state government needs only a few months of legislative branch activity each year. Minnesota has gained nearly 2 million people and a good deal more complexity since 1971. A new look at the old calendar seems in order.