Endgame – a way out


The Minnesota state shutdown is dragging on with no end in sight. The sides aren’t meeting and Gov. Dayton is on a tour of the state to make his case. While there still hasn’t been a good poll on how the public feels, there are increasing signs that it is playing out much as I predicted last Friday. But at that time I didn’t include an endgame or a solution to the process. A few events and observations have led me to speculate on not just how this should end but how it could go down.

The answer is, as it always is, to get very real. There’s little substitute for leadership, and nothing creates leadership like a difficult time.

The evidence that there is something in the works is thin and requires something like the old “Kremlinology”, the study of the inner workings of the Soviet Union based on thin public statements. The DFL position has solidified as demands for a compromise of some kind dominate editorials while the Governor takes his case to the people. The initial attempt to pin blame on Gov. Dayton did not stick. Meanwhile, the twitter feeds of Republican spinners like Brodcorb and Mitch Berg have moved on from painting the Governor as an extremist to more personal stuff like his keeping the Governor’s staff up as an “essential service” to, most recently, calling for an immediate special session to pass an undisclosed “lights on” bill for the short term. Clearly, they recognize that the shutdown is hurting them more.

But the most damning movement comes from their own party, especially this editorial from former state Rep Dan Dorman in the Albert Lea Tribune. No softie or moderate, Dorman argues that the party’s ability to hold the Legislature is at stake and that a revolt by 10 key Republicans, combined with solid Democrat support, is all it will take to pass a budget. That’s serious stuff.

As much as we see evidence of movement, however, it’s not enough to get a budget passed – yet.

The real solution is actually very simple. A compromise passed today that splits the difference between the two sides would give the Legislature two years to take another swipe at it. Along with this there should be a commission appointed with very high profile people chartered with the responsibility of crafting an entirely new system that deals with the changing demographics, economics, and technology that is available. More than just a bi-partisan commission, this should be non-partisan – ideally headed up by a figure like Tim Penny of the Independence Party and with solid input organized by the Citizen’s League, the only organization in the state with the intellectual heft and ability to include ordinary people and non-partisan professionals who have studied these issues.

In short, it’s a punt to play defense. But it’s much more than that because wholesale reform of our entire system is absolutely necessary and politically palatable, as outlined in this recent interview with Tim Penny. It’s a must read for anyone who thinks the budget battle is completely intractable – it very much is not.

Why didn’t this happen during the six months that the Governor and Legislature had to work out a budget? To be fair, both were new and probably not ready to tackle something this serious right away. They also had to play out the hands they were given after the last election before they could get down to business. Time has passed, the hands have been played, and the cards are all down. It’s time for a, dare I say it, new deal. Lowercase new deal – in more ways than one.

Our current system dates from roughly 1969, when the “Minnesota Miracle” was first proposed by the Citizen’s League, and gradually implemented by the state in the early 1970s. It evened out revenue among local units of government, stabilized school funding, and moved the state to more progressive income tax based system. It’s been tinkered with a lot over the last 40 years, and most agree that what we have left is at best a pale shadow of what we had. That’s fair enough, as time passes and things change. A new system and new agreement among state and local governments is absolutely necessary. The way out of this budget fight is nothing less than a new “Miracle”.

So let’s make it happen. It will take time and it will take a lot of involvement from non politicians across the state. A quick compromise now and we have two years to make it happen. That’s what I see going down, or something like it. Difficult times like these often create real leadership and I see a lot of reasons why Minnesota may yet lead the nation in showing the way government can work properly.