Column: Legislators should go home

ST. PAUL -- There's an old axiom among fire fighters that should be exercised by legislators in St. Paul this spring: "When the fire is out, the firefighters go home."...

ST. PAUL -- There's an old axiom among fire fighters that should be exercised by legislators in St. Paul this spring: "When the fire is out, the firefighters go home."

Last year's protracted budget debate extended two and a half months beyond the constitutional deadline and led to a 20-day government shutdown. It should be obvious to anyone who follows the three-ring circus at the Capitol that the budget fire is out and legislators should put down their gavels and return to their families.

Two weeks ago, the state budget forecast showed a $323 million surplus. That's in addition to the $876 million surplus from the November budget projections. This brings the total estimated cash balance to $1.2 billion since last year's $5 billion budget deficit -- a huge reversal in the state's financial picture.

Under current law this additional revenue gets split three ways --$255 million to the cash flow account, $626 million to the budget reserve and, lastly, $318 million to reduce the delay in payments to schools. The budget is balanced, the cash flow and budget reserve accounts have been restored and that pesky delay in school payments has been partially restored. What's left to do? The real answer is nothing.

But as hard-working public servants, lawmakers want the public to believe that there is a mountain of urgent public policy work left to be pushed through the legislative meat grinder.


The first excuse offered as to why legislators can't go home is Gov. Mark Dayton's "People's Stadium" -- the stadium that the people pay for but can't afford to go to. The claim is that a Vikings stadium bill must pass or owner Zygi Wilf will move the team to Los Angeles. But recently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said no team will be moving to L.A. next year. Billionaire Wilf has spent a lot of money creating smoke to convince lawmakers that the stadium issue is a fire that can only be extinguished with Minnesota tax dollars. But the bottom line is, there is no fire and the Vikings will wait.

The next supposed burning issue is the bonding bill. This is the legislation that creates more state debt so government can go on a construction spending spree. Last year the Legislature passed an increase of half a billion dollars in state debt for building projects, most of which have yet to break ground. If they haven't used all the construction money they bonded for last session, it's clear that Minnesotans can wait 12 months to go further in debt to build more government buildings. For those who are demanding a bonding bill, the question is: Where's the fire?

Moving past the spending bills, next consider the current political divide at the Capitol. During the first eight weeks of this year's session, the Legislature has passed 14 of the 2,062 bills introduced, Gov. Dayton has signed eight into law and vetoed six. Of the eight bills Dayton has signed, none are significant legislation.

As the smoke cleared from last year's budget crisis, it was clear that the ideological divide between the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Dayton will not likely dissipate over the next few months. Therefore, the chance that the Republican Legislature will be able to convince Dayton to sign any major reform legislation is somewhere between slim and none. With no budget to balance and a governor that has made it clear he is willing to veto popular, non-controversial bills, what is it that lawmakers believe they can accomplish?

In light of the stalemate with the governor, what legislators are bringing to the forefront is a long list of trivial bills. The top of this list is legislation that names the official state dirt. Next we have legislation that would formalize a committee of 36 teenagers to have input into the legislative process and work on youth-related legislation. One Republican legislator has taken it upon himself to address the dire need to stop the impersonation of barbers in Minnesota by introducing legislation that would make it illegal for anyone without a license to place a barber pole in a location that would create or tend to create the impression to the public that the business is a barber shop.

Since the start of the session lawmakers have introduced 17 bills concerning license plates, including the bill to issue special license plates that state "Start Seeing Motorcycles." The question about this legislation is if you can't see the motorcycle, how are you going to see the license plate? The list of meaningless legislation goes on and on and, left to their own devices, legislators will go on and on as well. Legislative leaders shouldn't wait until late April to end this do nothing session -- they should pull the plug now.

The budget fire that was blazing out of control last year has been extinguished. It's time for the firefighters to go home.

Phil Krinkie is a former state representative and president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.

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