It’s a question we’ve asked lawmakers since this year’s legislative session ended with unfinished business. With major tax and transportation bills left lingering in conference committee, what will be different when they return to the table next year?
So far, the answers have been optimistic, but they’ve also lacked a distinct plan.
When we posed the question to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, we liked the fact that the state’s top legislative Republican acknowledges a need for more bipartisan efforts. While he cites many positive results from the 2015 legislative session, he also notes some partisan lines were drawn. “I’m tired of the divide-and-conquer politics of St. Paul,” he told the Post-Bulletin Editorial Board last week. “It is un-Minnesotan to pit one group of people against another.”
While we liked the answer, we remain concerned about the lack of true change in attitude we’re seeing from some legislators. We’re not hearing ideas for breaking that cycle.
When it comes to transportation funding, Daudt is suggesting a statewide vote to let the people decide whether to dedicate sales tax for auto parts, leased vehicles and car rentals for transportation funding. The idea stems from Democratic criticism of a Republican plan to spend $7 billion on transportation funding by shifting those taxes from the general fund. Democrats cited the uncertainty of how those funds would be spent in the future.
The suggestion, however, fails to provide a bipartisan solution. Instead of forcing the Republican-led House and the Democrat-led Senate to find common ground, it attempts to shrug off responsibility and lay the decision at the feet of voters.
The call to “let the people decide” sounds reasonable on the surface, but often it is either a dereliction of duty or an effort to put a wedge in the issue to stymie opposition. Either way, it’s more about political cover than actual decisionmaking, which is what we send our lawmakers to St. Paul to do.
It’s odd that Daudt would make such a potentially divisive suggestion shortly after accusing Democrats of setting a separate trap when they suggested a gas tax to fund transportation improvements. Noting Democrats had control of the House and Senate for two years and never discussed a gas tax, Daudt said this year’s tax proposal seems politically motivated. “My guess is they were trying to bait us a little bit on us coming out as against spending on roads and bridges,” he said.
The “let Minnesotans decide” tactic seems to take a similar stance and shouldn’t get much traction in the coming months. When lawmakers return to St. Paul for an abbreviated session next year, it’ll be time to start working on solutions instead of finding ways to trip up the other side.
Daudt said it well when talking about making tough spending decisions with requests that eclipse the state surplus: “Our job isn’t always easy because we have to make tough decisions. We have to say ‘What’s best for the state of Minnesota?’ ”
We hope that’s a question Daudt and other lawmakers can find a common answer to as they continue to discuss transportation and how to address the growing needs throughout the state.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ROCHESTER POST-BULLETIN