While the pace of legislative business has been odd this week it’s clear that the clock is ticking. The Minnesota Legislature has 17 days to pass a budget that deals with our $5 billion deficit. Budget conference committees have made very little progress over the last several weeks. In some instances they have not even agreed to language in the two bills that are identical.
Instead we have been focused this week on constitutional amendments dealing with divisive issues. In the last two weeks, Republicans have introduced constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, institute a Voter ID system, require a three-fifths majority to pass a revenue increase, and limit state spending in the current budget cycle to the amount of revenues that were collected during the previous budget cycle. This week, there have been more hearings on constitutional amendments than conference committee meetings on budget bills.
This is a dramatic shift from the beginning of the session when the Republican leadership insisted that they were going to focus on job creation and balancing the state budget. Instead we have little progress on the budget and a renewed emphasis on divisive social issues.
I’m troubled by this approach aimed at locking into the constitution issues that democracies struggle with: taxing, spending, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. A vital democracy struggles with these issues on a continuous basis out of respect for the populace and their right to engage in the debate and answer the questions differently at different times. Locking these issues into the constitution is an insult to the majority of people in the future who will be locked out of these debates should any of these amendments become law.
17 days to pass a balanced budget. It almost certain at this point that we will not finish our business on time, not do the hard part of negotiating and compromising in the tradition of Minnesota politics and the practice of governance.
During this important legislative session, I encourage you to offer your insight, feedback, questions and concerns. My office door in St. Paul is always open, or you can reach me by phone at 651-296-0173 or by email at email@example.com. Thank you for the honor of serving you in state government.