ECM Editorial Board: Our message to lawmakers

Newspaper editorial boards across Minnesota must feel at times as if they are speaking to a brick wall when it comes to making recommendations to state lawmakers.

And there is good reason for such feelings.

Repeated recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature during and in the closing days of the 2016 session mostly fell on deaf ears. Repeated calls for a special session in the final six months of 2016 to take care of unfinished regular session business also fell on deaf ears.

It is almost incomprehensible that lawmakers would go home without completing action on key subjects that included bonding, taxes and transportation. But yet they did after 11th-hour negotiations exploded in their faces, leaving no wiggle room for resolution. With those failures on the books, lawmakers were still unable to resolve their differences and meet in special session to take care of unfinished business.

Even with the added pressure of a mutual desire by Republicans and Democrats to address a health insurance crisis, calls for a special session fell on deaf ears. Right now some 100,000 state residents face staggering health insurance premium increases on the individual market but are not eligible for federal subsidies.

The past year was government dysfunction as its best, or worst, if you prefer.

The opening of the 2017 session on Jan. 3 left many wondering if there would be a return to common sense governing or more of the same gridlock, 2016 style. The relationship between Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, is cool at best. And with Republicans in control of both bodies of state government, more hard lines could be drawn. On the surface, that does not bode well for a productive session.

One bright spot, however, is the rise of Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, newly elected as Senate Majority Leader. Gazelka is a solid conservative but a man with a desire to compromise and make government function. He could be the needed bridge between Gov. Dayton and Speaker Daudt. His task will not be easy, but we believe he understands the role he may need to play.

There is plenty of work to do in this session. Taking care of unfinished business from 2016 is at the top of the list. Crafting a new state budget will also spotlight differences between DFL and Republican philosophical positions on spending. Compromise on all parts will be necessary.

If lawmakers make progress on tax relief, health insurance reform and transportation spending, the state’s projected $1.4 billion surplus will shrink. How to address funding levels for K-12 and higher education are important subjects that must be debated.

As an editorial board, we could set down a series of recommendations that we believe the Legislature should follow. That’s what we have done in the past. But faced with the prospect of speaking to the brick wall once again, we will delay editorial comments to a review of the actions lawmakers take in 2017.

We do have one straightforward request as the session progresses. Get your work done and get your work done on time. No more 11th-hour decisions and cramming through bills which leave the public in the dark. Government in Minnesota will be best served if elected officials use the next five months to finish business on time and with the transparency that has been sadly missing.

— An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board. Reactions to this editorial — and to any commentary on these pages – are always welcome. Send to: ECM.EditorialBoard@ecm-inc.com.