At this writing, 30 hours remain in the 2017 Legislature’s regular session’s constitutional life span. Its main mission has not yet been accomplished. The Republican-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton have not agreed on the next two-year state budget.
By all accounts, they are close. A deal reportedly has been slow in coming in part because — as Dayton predicted — the inclusion of policy provisions backed only by Republicans in budget bills is impeding an accord. But lawmakers have already blown several days past a deadline they did not set, but should have. They should have arranged their work to allow for public posting of final bills several days before the constitutional deadline, so that Minnesotans could react before the budget is set in law.
As it stands, enacting a $46 billion biennial budget before the regular session expires at midnight Monday will require such haste that not even most legislators will have time to thoroughly read the budget bills. The rush risks a repeat of last session’s drafting error in a $260 million tax bill, which Dayton cited as reason for a veto. Or another unpopular move like the taxation of farm equipment repairs, enacted in 2013 and quickly repealed in 2014 after its adverse political consequences were known.
For those reasons, we make this plea to lawmakers: Slow down. Reach a handshake agreement by midnight Monday if possible, but don’t push for immediate votes on the budget bills. Put the bills in final form, post them for public review and enact them in a special session a few days hence.
There would be no disgrace in that approach. Eight times in the past 25 years, the Legislature has required a brief (or not so brief) special session to finish its work on the budget.
This time, Minnesotans can be assured that by all accounts, earnest efforts are being made to reach accord. The partisan verbal sparring that characterized much of this session fell mostly silent during the past week. Both Dayton and the legislative majorities moved a considerable distance from their starting positions. Several smaller bills — agriculture, environment and natural resources, and higher education — have been sent to the House and Senate floor for final votes. Clusters of legislators and Dayton administration representatives huddled at all hours throughout the weekend — away from public view.
That lack of visibility in the conduct of public business is regrettable, even if it bears good fruit. To its discredit, the Legislature has excluded itself from the open-meeting requirement it imposes on local governments. That’s a sin that will be compounded this year if haste prevents a hard look at the budget bills until after they have been enacted.
It’s a given that partisans on both sides will find things they don’t like in the final budget bills. That’s the nature of the meet-in-the-middle compromises that divided government requires. More time before floor votes will bring dissent to the fore. But Minnesotans are much more likely to deem the outcome fair if they can comment on the final product before legislators’ votes are cast. Lawmakers should give them that chance.