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Monday, May 31, 2004

Dessert or Vegetables

The Strib has another article today on the fallout of not passing a bonding bill this year. The gist is that by not passing a bonding bill, Minnesota will be missing out on a good deal of money from the federal government. This is certainly true. What makes it worse is that Minnesota gets relatively little money from the federal government in the first place. As the Tax Foundation points out, Minnesota gets only 77ยข for every dollar we send to the federal government. This is not uncommon among the blue states, while the small-government Republican red states love to nurse at the federal government teat (Alabama $1.64 for every dollar sent to Washington, Mississippi $1.89, Montana $1.67, and so on).

What gets to me about this situation is how the bonding bill is referred to once again by some of the players as "dessert" that must be done last. Sure, there is definitely some pork in the bill (take a look here if you so desire, PDF file). The bonding bill is typically used to help vulnerable candidates who are running for re-election, and there is evidence of that in this bill: $18 million for a hockey arena in Bemidji is a prime example. However, there is a lot in the bill that isn't pork. Asset preservation for the U of M and MnSCU, DNR initiatives for flood mitigation and land acqusition, closed landfill bonding...all of these are expenses that any responsible person would see more as necessities than as nice-to-haves. Delaying the repair of a U of M building for a few years isn't going to make the expense go away, it is going to increase it. Ditto for many other projects in the bill.

I am certain that people are referring to the bonding bill as "dessert" because it would probably be easiest to dispose of during a special session, at which point the legislature could just go home. For those people who are obsessed with putting a constitutional amendment in front of the voters dealing with the sexual lives of some Minnesotans, passing the bonding bill and going home is not a good thing. They want to see a long, drawn-out debate on gay marriage and other social issues. It's too bad that necessary projects, and not just desserts, are held hostage by a tiny minority.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Public Disclosure

The Star Tribune reports that ex-Representative Dave Bishop, a Republican from Rochester, failed to disclose that he had an interest in land that was adjacent to a highway that was being upgraded. These highway improvements could add a tidy amount to the value of the land. He said his failure to disclose ownership was an oversight, but as is usually the case in these affairs, to the public it doesn't matter if it was an oversight or plain corruption. It all smells the same. There are more strange quirks to the story, such as whether certain interchanges that give better highway access to this land should have been built in the first place.

Legislators have to disclose far too little of their potential conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, there is a bipartisan majority that wishes to uphold the status quo. I remember a few times in recent years when there were attempts made to tighten up the public disclosure laws, but both sides have legislators who would rather keep things under wraps.

When you are a legislator and you control an annual budget that runs into the billions of dollars, it is fair to expect that the public will have the opportunity to know if you stand to gain anything. Disclosing jobs, salaries, investments, real estate, and other relevant financial information is a small price to pay for transparency. Until there is a change, look for more of these stories to bubble up from time to time, with a corresponding drop in the public's confidence in our legislature.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Rep. Doug Stang finds a new job

That sure was fast.

Rep. Doug Stang, a Republican from Cold Spring, announced that he would not be running for re-election this year. He was first elected in 1996 at a relatively young age, and currently chairs the Higher Education Finance Committee. It didn't take him very long to find something to do when his term is over.

Special session

At this point, the odds that a special session will be called are not good. The bonding bill, the state's budget, the stadium issue, tightening up sex offender laws, and (sigh) gay marriage are all issues that were left in limbo when the legislature adjourned for the year.

Although Republicans are blaming Senate Democrats for the stalemate, what was more remarkable was the fact that the Republican House and the governor were unable to work together on several major issues, like Northstar commuter rail. Three-way government was the norm in the days of Jesse Ventura, and most people thought those days were over when Pawlenty was elected. It looks like they may have spoken too soon.

Who will this help and who will this hurt? Only the House of Representatives is up for election this year. The public is in a "throw the bums out" mood, and the Republicans have far more bums that could be shown the door. The Democrats may come out ahead in this one, and it is pretty obvious that this is what they are thinking. Add to this national events that are taking a toll on the Republican party, and it could make for a very interesting election in the House.

Drinking at the Capitol?

The recent "scandal" to hit the Capitol has been a FOX 9 news story about legislators and lobbyists drinking at the Capitol at then end of session (you can see the article here). This news story strangely focused only on DFLers drinking, although even the governor has admitted that it is done on a bipartisan basis.

Is the hype appropriate? I don't think so. Sure, legislators probably should not be drinking at the Capitol. While I have heard that some legislators have supplies of alcohol in their offices, I have never seen any drinking myself. It is a rare event, and it does not affect the legislative process one bit. I would welcome a ban, but in the end this is truly much ado about nothing.

Welcome to Minnesota Politics!

Welcome to the new Minnesota Politics blog! This will focus on Minnesota political issues, unsurprisingly. Will this remain a blue state, or will the changing demographics make it contestible in November? What's going on at the Capitol? What's the gossip? You'll hear about it here.