Minnesotans take uncommon interest in their state government, for good reason. It affects their lives in personal and profound ways. They hold that they have a right to follow lawmakers’ decisionmaking, and they expect a chance to weigh in before the die is cast on legislation.
That’s why nearly a month of closed-door negotiations between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt — and, before May 18, DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk — have become more than tiresome in many Minnesotans’ eyes. So much secrecy is offensive in a state that otherwise insists on open government.
No matter what happens at the State Capitol in the rest of the run-up to a shutdown-averting special session, it needs to happen in the light of day, with the doors open, and with time allotted for Minnesotans to respond to what they see. And no matter what remains on legislators’ agendas after a special session, their to-do list for next year should include adoption of new end-of-session rules that assure more transparency than the 2015 Legislature afforded.
The excuse leaders of both parties offer for the surfeit of secrecy at session’s end is that no bipartisan bargain can be struck while compromise-averse political parties and interest groups are watching. We don’t minimize how difficult compromise has become in politically polarized America. But we’ve seen no evidence this year that secrecy has been a dealmaking plus.
After being assured that a deal leading to a special session was “very close” all week, by Friday midday Minnesotans still had been allowed only a partial view of decisions made in high-level talks since May 18. Without the full package, any assessment is premature.
That said, we’re heartened by the enlargement of a capital investment bill that did not beat the regular-session clock from $247 million on May 18 to $373 million. That’s still little more than a down payment on the state’s public-works needs. But it’s enough to finance the urgently needed relocation of Hwy. 53 on the Iron Range, the completion of the State Capitol’s restoration, and timely improvements in veterinary and poultry labs at the University of Minnesota.
The E-12 education bill, whose veto on May 21 was the first trigger for a special session, has also improved. About $125 million has been added to the original $400 million bill, with additional funds boosting both school operating support and preschool scholarships for needy children ages 1 to 5. The increase also helps Head Start and American Indian education initiatives, both of which had been omitted from the original bill.
At a post-session education policy forum in St. Paul on Tuesday, an editorial writer eavesdropped as school lobbyists fretted about mistakes they had found in the vetoed education bill. They had not been allowed enough time at the regular session’s end to recommend corrections, they said. They worried that a new bill crafted behind closed doors and a special-session rush job will deny them that opportunity again.
That shouldn’t happen. Frustrated Minnesotans should put Dayton and legislators on notice: They will be held accountable not only for a special session’s legislative output, but also for the way in which it was produced.