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Minnesota 2020 Journal: Legislative Session Distractions

January 27, 2012 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow

After ten-plus years of conservative public policy, Minnesota is falling behind. We’ve placed the priorities of Minnesota’s highest income earners ahead of middle and low-income Minnesotans’ needs. We’re investing fewer state resources in schools than we were a decade ago. Our roads are crumbling because we’re not maintaining them at a rate that matches our use. Affordable healthcare, a key element in Minnesota’s business competitiveness, is increasingly eluding working families.

This is not a prescription for prosperity.

Conservative legislative policymakers want to continue this slide. Their legislative session policy priorities include a series of constitutional amendments that would permanently place poor policy in Minnesota’s constitution. Rather than tackle real problems, conservative state policymakers propose a series of extreme distractions. These represent real threats to Minnesota but, collectively, they’re designed to tie-up the legislature’s time, preserving inequitable fiscal policy. Here’s a run-down.

Minnesota bans same-sex marriage. It is illegal. Since that ban is only a law and not a constitutional amendment, conservatives seek the whole nine yards. Passing this will make same-sex marriage really, really illegal. This one is already on the fall ballot.

Whenever conservative majorities win an electoral majority, they promptly attack labor unions. For quick reference, see Wisconsin. Conservative policymakers love “right to work” legislation, using the state’s authority to restrict unions’ right to organize and collective bargaining. Workers in so-called right-to-work states earn less money, experience a lower standard of living and are at greater risk of work-related injury. Since right-to-work has repeatedly failed in Minnesota’s legislature, conservative policymakers propose by-passing representative democracy’s process, placing right-to-work punishments directly in Minnesota constitution through an amendment ballot.

More Minnesotans vote, on a per capita basis, than in any other state. Election fraud is virtually non-existent in our state. Despite this, conservative leaders want to require that voters present a state-issued photo identification card to prevent voting fraud. The voter ID proposal is truly a solution in search of a problem. This measure will lower Minnesota’s voting participation rate, spend unnecessary money and threatens our democracy. Of course conservatives think that the state constitution should be amended to require voter ID.

Lastly, conservatives want to amend Minnesota’s constitution, requiring that any tax increase pass both legislative bodies by a supermajority of votes. A majority is fifty percent plus one. A supermajority is either three-fifths or two-thirds, depending on who’s talking. This is a big-deal bad idea.

The constitutional framers took great pains to create a publicly responsive system of government. They embraced a checks-and-balances mechanism, rooted in representative democracy, requiring the executive and legislative branches to work together. This, our present, system is working exactly as planned. State policymakers may have compelled your skyrocketing property taxes but they haven’t raised your state income tax rates.

The supermajority creates a virtually impossible legislative action barrier. It would permanently lock Minnesota into 2012, disregarding future generations’ needs or input. An immediate outcome will be increased state borrowing costs as the bond rating agencies raise Minnesota’s risk profile and lower our state bond rating. Without doing anything else, Minnesota will have to pay more to finance our regular road infrastructure maintenance.

Conservatives want to place the supermajority question on the fall election ballot. They’re trying to implement an extreme conservative agenda by manipulating and subverting Minnesota’s democracy. Binding future generation’s hands isn’t very democratic.

Minnesota will not be well-served by these proposed conservative state constitutional amendments. They will further the process of concentrating wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. Instead, Minnesota must invest in itself. Only strong, properly funded schools; affordable healthcare; robust transportation infrastructure; and job-creating economic growth moves Minnesota forward. These are the issues that really matter.

Minnesota’s elected officials should consider the Roman Emperor Titus’ lament. Titus had a brief, two-year reign. Suetonius, the Roman historian, wrote that Titus wasn’t the brightest, smartest or most capable emperor but he was diligent. He worked hard at exercising his responsibilities. Once, realizing that he’d done no personal favor for anyone that day, he said, “Friends, I have wasted a day.”

Minnesota legislators would be well-served by Titus’ concern. They have ample time to drop their conservative constitutional amendment plans, focus on what really matters, and not waste the session.

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2 Comments:

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    January 31, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    Democrats, Republicans, Greens and independents who oppose the amendments being put forth by today’s corporatist Republicans can find sample resolutions to propose at their party caucuses on February 7 at www.takeaction.org.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    February 1, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Oops. 

    That should be www.takeactionminnesota.org.