It seems that in every election cycle, we hear the repetition of promises of bipartisan cooperation and better outcomes. Yet the gridlock and special sessions continue and major concerns are simply pushed down the road.
That may well be where we are headed again. Gov. Tim Walz has laid out his plans for increased spending that he hopes will improve outcomes in our quality of life. The Republicans, on the other hand, have pledged opposition to any tax increases and have specifically targeted Walz’s proposals for increases in user taxes and fees, labeling them as “regressive.”
This situation has all the makings of a stalemate.
We can all agree that insanity is repetition of the same with the expectation of different results. Yet that has now become our biennial exercise.
Perhaps, we should accept Abraham Lincoln’s advice and think anew.
First, the process begins with honest and transparent budget practices. This nonsense of keeping inflation on the revenue side and deleting it on the spending side is deceitful and clearly designed to mislead the public. How can government punish businesses for improper financial practices when that same government places political convenience above truthful reporting? The Walz administration must put in some realistic inflationary targets on spending and dispel the public of the notion that there is a $1.5 billion surplus. By setting limits, the governor can more effectively control inflationary costs. But to suggest that there is no inflation is foolish and untruthful.
Second, there is no reason why state government cannot do what families and businesses must, and that is to first identify how much money is available, then spend within that limit. Foolishly, the current process agrees on spending first, and this sets up an irresolvable battle at the end of session. And we all lose.
Simple logic would suggest that the governor’s tax proposals be fairly heard and examined shortly, then submitted to a vote before any spending bill is passed. If there is going to be a deadlock, and that is likely, then let it be now. This will allow the Legislature and governor to negotiate their differences long before the session closes and, possibly, work together to implement some cost efficiencies, including the adoption of a “loaned executive” program that was one of the highlights of the Wendell Anderson administration back in the early 1970s.
LEAP, as it was known, involved businesses lending their professional talent to the state for the purpose of making proposals designed to create efficiencies, improve operations and modernize government. In private conversations with the governor, I know he is supportive, and there is no reason to believe that Republicans would not be enthusiastic.
Building this partnership would open doors to other opportunities involving the use of talent from the business, academic and nonprofit sectors, for the purpose of planning our future to deal with challenges ranging from climate change to truly helping our homeless children and families. And the governor should bring in the opposing party, because inclusion tends to dissolve hyperpartisanship.
The governor is in the unique position to build relations that can lead to genuine progress by summoning our state’s “best and brightest” to work together with the goal of planning our future rather than being surprised by it. But this requires the resolve to make government function in an intelligent and cost-efficient fashion.
Arne H. Carlson was governor of Minnesota from 1991 to 1999.