For the Minnesotans who hold that summer can’t begin until the Legislature completes its annual exertions, here’s an encouraging word: Summer is almost here.
At this writing, Gov. Mark Dayton has not called a special session. But his concession Monday to the Legislature’s position on the state auditor’s duties removed the biggest remaining obstacle to a tripartite accord — among the governor, House and Senate — that governors typically require before calling legislators back to St. Paul.
Minor differences remain between the governor and the Legislature on a bill pertaining to jobs and energy — and on each count, Dayton ought to prevail. He’s asking for provisions to help people with disabilities find and maintain employment; help keep mental illness victims in their homes; continue discounts for those who use wind and solar energy to power their homes and businesses; and limit a large-user electricity rate discount, which would raise rates for other users, to taconite and forestry processors on the hard-pressed Iron Range. The state budget impact of these provisions is a measly $5 million, in a $42 billion budget.
If legislators bow to Dayton’s wishes, he said Monday, a special session could occur later this week to complete the 2015 Legislature’s unfinished work.
For the good of many in this state, we hope that lawmaking day arrives soon. The veto of three major spending bills and the failure of two other funding bills to meet the regular session’s midnight May 18 deadline has put large sums and vital state activities in limbo. School districts need the assurance of uninterrupted state funds and services that can only come when a $17 billion E-12 bill is signed into law. Relief for farmers who have lost poultry to avian flu and mine workers who have lost jobs to the taconite industry’s weakness is also on hold.
State employees deserve a swift resolution as well. Twice before — in 2005 and 2011 — they have endured unpaid furloughs of several weeks’ duration due to an inability of the governor and Legislature to come to a timely accord on the biennial budget. That threat hangs over nearly 9,500 again this month, and will remain until all of the budget bills become law.
Some might note that many Americans endure uncertainty in employment and argue that government workers should not be immune. But government workers are employed to do public work deemed so important that the people have chosen via their elected representatives to tax themselves to pay for it.
The work stops during a government shutdown. But just the threat of a shutdown, like the one that has been in play since May 18, is enough to diminish productivity and sap morale in affected government operations. Worst of all may be what it does to government’s ability to recruit able employees, especially in Minnesota’s tightening labor market.
Dayton’s concession Monday means that uncertainty will linger over one office, that of the state auditor. The Legislature’s vote will stand to allow counties as of Aug. 1, 2016, to use private auditing firms rather than the office of State Auditor Rebecca Otto, though legislative leaders say they will alter an effective date so that the office’s authority to audit counties will not end on July 1.
Otto vows to fight the erosion in her office’s authority and duties — as well she should. This office was created by the state Constitution in 1858 and, as such, belongs to the people. The Legislature is permitted to define the office’s duties. But a court will likely be asked soon to decide whether privatizing the core function of the office goes beyond a permissible redefinition.