Highest priorities took a back seat in legislative session


I cannot help but conclude that Minnesota has allowed its high standards for excellent public policy to slip in recent years. We managed to get through the 2006 Legislative session without partisan gridlock or a major meltdown, so we see headlines claiming this year was a success. Relatively speaking, this is true.

Never mind that the stadium discussion overshadowed the quest to meet fundamental needs in health care, education, energy, environment, transportation, property tax relief and public safety. Since 2001, we have slipped a very long way in every one of these key categories and we have lost some opportunities to get our state on the right track. In essence, we still have a state deficit.

I appreciated that Governor Pawlenty didn’t raid Health Care Access funding once again, thereby giving the next Administration a small reserve to implement true reform and cost controls in health care. (Allow me to point out that I have rolled out a viable, comprehensive health care reform proposal.) However, abortion opponents essentially held hostage all the important health care legislation this year. We had an opportunity to expand MinnesotaCare eligibility, but it went by the wayside.

It is also unfortunate that we could not agree on setting the modest goal of reaching 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. It is inexcusable that our state ranks No. 1 in the nation in the importation of electricity; this continuing situation holds dire economic consequences for Minnesota’s future. The Legislature also failed to set up a system to ensure recycling of computers and other electronic products.

In education, we didn’t address affordable higher education tuition or reducing classroom sizes so students get the individual attention they need. Our history of investing in education is what made Minnesota a beacon of success.

Thankfully, we will have an opportunity to break the decades-long highway/transit logjam with the constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2006 to contribute Motor Vehicle Sales Tax revenue exclusively to both roads and transit. However, that ballot measure was actually accomplished in 2005 and only survived because Pawlenty was legally prevented from vetoing it. This year, no major progress on meeting transportation needs was made.

After many years of reverse Robin Hood tactics when it comes to property tax policy and overall tax fairness, Pawlenty suddenly is expressing concern that Democrats will use the issue against him. Temporary relief contemplated in 2006 would have only applied a small Band Aid for a wound in need of a tourniquet. Yes, this Democrat will continue talking about the unfair property tax hikes and the loss of local aid allowed by Tim Pawlenty.

The state will invest an additional $19 million in supplemental corrections funding, coming to grips with the significant increase in sex offender incarceration. This comes very late in the process, though, after years of revelations indicating that correctional staffing and facilities are inadequate. Have the Republican budget cuts compromised public safety? I believe we will have a lively discussion on this question in the general election.

In Minnesota, we have a long tradition of high standards. For the past four years, we have heard a steady message from Tim Pawlenty and the Republicans that we need to set our standards lower and remake Minnesota into something more like Mississippi or Louisiana.

My decision to run for Governor against Tim Pawlenty was inspired by Minnesotans who are searching for a clear vision from their chief executive, and a constructive new direction for our state. Under my leadership, we will come together, find the common ground and focus on doing what is right for all Minnesotans.

State Sen. Becky Lourey is a DFL candidate for governor.

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