Capitol inaction, secrecy expose MN good government myth. Again

It’s no surprise that the Minnesota Legislature has waited until the last minute to try to get any work done. The Legislature has increasingly gotten as dysfunctional as its federal counterpart in Washington in recent years, reaching a new level of paralysis in this session.

When it comes to open government, Minnesota spends far too much time patting itself on the back.

Very little legislation has advanced in this session, with the transportation bill hung up over funding for light-rail in the southwest metro.

Even legislation spurred by the case of a woman who got hit in the face with a beer mug because she wasn’t speaking English couldn’t get through this crowd, even though both the House and Senate favored it.

Expanded access to mental health care is likely to fall into the sinkhole of inertia this year, to the consternation of the Star Tribune’s editorial board today. It apparently has bipartisan support, but lawmakers have fiddled for so many weeks that they’re too busy going nowhere on the transportation issue to consider it.

Bonding bills have come out of the dark in the last few weeks to fail on floor votes.

After months of inaction, suddenly a big increase in license tab fees emerges in proposals from both sides in recent days while most of Minnesota isn’t paying much attention.

There’s a legitimate public debate to be had on transportation funding, tab fees, and the balance between roads and transit, but it’ll only happen in the opinion pages of newspapers.

Stephen Neiswanger’s letter in today’s Star Tribune forms the basis of what could have been a great floor debate… months ago.

As a deputy registrar, I am a bit concerned about the discussion to raise more revenue by increasing license tab fees. Tab fees are tied incrementally to the initial base value of a vehicle, then the cost of the tabs is slowly reduced year by year as the vehicle gets older.

As an example, if a 2016 vehicle has a base value of $20,500 today, the tabs would cost $258. If that same vehicle had a base value when it was new five years ago of $19,300, the tabs would have been $243 at that time. The Star Tribune gave an example of a new car as costing $15,000, which would be a price that anyone would find hard-pressed to discover.

As vehicles become more expensive, the revenue from tabs increases. In addition, most counties have now instituted a wheelage tax of $10.

This revenue goes directly to the counties in which the vehicle is kept and is designated for road and bridge construction and repair. This additional tax is added onto the tabs every time the vehicle registration is renewed.

The citizens of the state are burdened with registration fees that are seen by many as excessive. I hear this daily, as do all of the individuals who work in this field. I would find it concerning should this plan go beyond the stage of ideas being discussed but not necessarily thought through.

Over the next couple of days, all of this will be settled in closed-door meetings. Reporters will stake out offices for a shred of information, an agreement will be rushed to the floor while most people are getting their beauty sleep, the Legislature will quickly pass the agreement, the governor will sign it.

And lawmakers will rush home for the summer, declaring while it wasn’t pretty, they got their job done.

Archive: When legislators don’t know what they’re doing (NewsCut)

  • Gary F

    The problem is that this is a “bonding bill” year. An off year. Policy and new taxes are to be handled every other year. Find some projects, borrow for them or use the surplus AND GO HOME. No new taxes no new laws, can the insatiable beast called government ever take a rest?

    • It’s the process though. I’m not a fan of the omnibus bill….you have a hearing…a bill gets laid over for “possible inclusion” and then in secret it gets decided…maybe it becomes part of a larger bill…maybe it doesn’t. We don’t get to see it. And then in the last days…stuff comes from nowhere.

      I’m sure it all makes perfect sense to legislators and lobbyists.

      • Gary F

        But if they stopped proposing Sunday liquor/lead shot bands/bathroom laws/gun registration laws/Prince laws/state color laws,tax increases, and all the rest of the non-bonding bill stuff, they might not need to go the end of the line.

        • wjc

          But it seems to take the end-of-session pressure to get to any of the other things. Kind of a mess.

          Bonding bills failed in both houses and they knew they would fail. Half of what happens is pure theater. The GOP didn’t even have their doomed bonding bill in the House until Wednesday.

          Unicameral, anyone?

        • KenB

          There’s plenty of time for all those things AND the big stuff. Did the House (GOP) really have to wait until the last week of this session to introduce its bonding bill? Nothing stopped the legislators from working on bills between last year’s adjournment and this year’s session start.

          Nothing.

          • BJ

            Except the full time jobs that many of them have.

          • KenB

            A person who runs for office and gets elected has a responsibility to put in the time necessary to do a good job in office. If their full-time job interferes with being a good elected person, then make a choice — and become a full-time civilian.

            And they have staff to help with their legislative responsibilities.

  • Al

    So how DO we make the legislative process more transparent?

    • Gary F

      Find a way to dock their pay. If you go into special session, no pay, no per diem. All bills must have a 48 hour online public inspection before it can be voted on. Any bill voted on and passed with less that 24 hours left in the session means they all get their pay docked.

      Problem is, they would have to vote in those rules.

      Term limits is a good start.

      • wjc

        Term limits are not the answer. Then you have greener legislators taking the brinksmanship to a higher level.

        Maybe we should pay legislators more to attract better legislators? More fights for the spots would take care of term limits.

        On the transparency issue at this time of the session, it’s tough. As it looks now from here, no progress is being made on transportation, bonding or taxes. All of these affect each other in negotiations however, and if there is progress being made behind closed doors, we don’t know about it.

        We’ll have to wait to see how the weekend plays out. Then we’ll moan about it, and then we’ll reelect our reps and senators. And the same thing will happen next year, assuming we still have a divided legislature.

        • It may well be the problem is us. Are we willing to cut some slack here for progress on legislation there? (i.e. compromise etc)?

          Probably not.

          • wjc

            I believe it was the GOP that stopped compromising, because every damned thing became a matter of principle. What happened to the legislators that broke with the GOP party line on the transportation bill a few sessions back? They were shown the door by the party. One became a DFLer.

            Compromise has to stop being a dirty word. It’s how stuff gets done in divided government. Actually, it is required when one party holds all of the branches. I remember a few knockdown, drag outs between Gov. Perpich and the DFL Legislature. Nobody needs to get exactly what they want.

        • Postal Customer

          A friend of mine once had an interest idea regarding this.

          Mandatory legislator service. Get picked at random like jury duty, only now you serve a term in the house or senate. This is the only way to guarantee that real people (not wealthy partisans) make the laws.

          Maybe after one term, you could run for re-election and are allowed to serve one more term. Then somebody new must take the seat.

          • wjc

            Do you really want a Legislature full of people who don’t really know how the government works? What are the odds of getting a functional group of people under that system?

          • Jason Mock

            About as good as the current system?

          • wjc

            I truly doubt it.

          • Postal Customer

            You could have one permanent person who deals with the nuts and bolts of passing laws. And there could be a required training course for each newcomer. It could be done. And it certainly wouldn’t be any worse than the system we have now, which is all based on money.

          • wjc

            I think you underestimate the potential for getting worse.

          • BJ

            >What are the odds of getting a functional group of people under that system?

            Nearly the same as the one we have now?

          • wjc

            I really don’t think that is true. I’ll run against the tide on this one, but instead of trying to push people out or employ punitive measures to punish legislators for inaction, I think we should pay them more.

            If the salary was commensurate with what we expect out of them, we might get a better class of lawmaker. I, for one, would never run for the legislature. You get paid as if it is a part-time gig, but people have full-time expectations. We might see a big improvement if we gave incentives for the job rather than treating the members like crooks.

  • Rob

    this is gonna sound like a yogi berraism, but if it takes several months to get nothing done, couldn’t nothing get done in a much shorter amount of time? i propose a legislative session of four weeks. shortening it considerably would also save taxpayers a ton on per diem payouts.

    • BJ

      oh yeah…

      >save a ton on per diem payouts.

      House members are eligible for daily payment of $77. Senators are eligible for daily payments of $96 a day.

      Round to $100 times 180 days (more than they are in session) 3 for each district – roughly $3,618,000 – over 1,750,000 people in the state of minnesota pay taxes.

      That’s $2.06

      • Rob

        Several million in savings per year = significant progress, IMHO. And $2.06 buys a small dark roast at Dunn Bros! Plus, we could save even more money by trimming legislator’s salaries by about 2/3rds to reflect the four weeks of time they’d spend at the Capitol under my proposal. Right now, being a do-nothing legislator is one of the sweetest part-time gigs on the planet.

  • PaulJ

    If there was a better voter decision support system, there’d be better government. But, as long as our high schools continue to turn out graduates who will vote for who (whom?:) ever spends the most on TV ads, we’ll get what ‘they’ pay for.

  • Postal Customer

    Reporters could do their jobs too. Oops, no, they can’t, that might be mistaken for partisanship.

    A theoretical reporter could ask Kurt Doubt if he understands the difference between structural money and one-time money.

    And then, this highly theoretical reporter, when given the very-expected condescending chuckle by the Speaker, could press him on why that question is relevant.

    Don’t do it though. He might never talk to you again.

  • Justine Parenteau Wettschreck

    Maybe if they weren’t all so busy trying to keep their jobs, they would actually do their jobs. They are all so busy pandering to their party lines, they forget they are supposed to be working for us and for the betterment of the state. I have been talking to my local senator on the air every two weeks since the session began and asking him repeatedly how this same ‘last minute’ thing can happen year after year, and it always gets blamed on the other side. Everything gets blamed on the other side, so matter which side you talk to. I see more mature behavior from my toddler-aged grandchildren.

  • The House had plenty of time to draw up a “bathroom bill” and a bill to allow exploding fireworks. This sort of thing happens EVERY time the GOP gets a majority – they just can’t seem to help themselves. I guess we’ll just have to wait until interest rates go up so we can get less bonding bang for our borrowing buck. Some fireworks – duds, just like the majority caucus.

  • Tim

    A bit of a tangent, but I took issue with this line in the letter:

    “The Star Tribune gave an example of a new car as costing $15,000, which would be a price that anyone would find hard-pressed to discover.”

    It’s quite easy to find smaller cars in that price range; that’s around what I paid a year and a half ago for mine brand new. I don’t really have a firm opinion on a possible tab fee increase, and maybe the Strib should have gone with a higher example amount, but it wasn’t that far off base either.

    • I’m a fan of lease turn-ins. Usually prices in the teens, practically new, most of the depreciation removed. Great deals.

    • BJ

      Absolute cheapest 2016 models I could find only 3 under $15K:

      Honda fit is $17400

      Hyundai Accent is $16,580

      Chevy Sonic $16,400

      Toyota Yaris $16,390

      Kia Rio $16,200

      Ford Fiesta $16,000

      Smart ForTwo Pure Coupe $15,200

      Mitsubishi Mirage $14,900

      Chevy Spark $14,600

      Nissan Versa $14,300

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    My guess is that Minnesotans have become almost a microcosm of the rest of the nation–not completely–but significantly. This is probably a result of the 24-hour, often biased, news coverage that focuses on and sometimes pushes divisive issues, as well as the influx of newcomers here that that are not invested in, and don’t share the traditional cultural identity and progressive values of this state.

    Of course, our elected officials will reflect this. The idea of compromise and looking ahead to the future has gone out the window.

  • lindblomeagles

    The big problem with federal and Minnesota state politics is one party, the GOP, is extremely resistant to change, and is becoming increasingly hostile and feeling alienated because change is happening despite their efforts to slow or stop it. The GOP is right – government can’t spend without some thought to what Minnesota is spending money on. The problem is, the GOP isn’t taking their own advice. The State of Minnesota CAN NOT keep putting all of their resources into roads because the cost to create more and repair all of our roads goes up every year. At some point, more roads is just unsustainable. Simultaneously, the GOP makes a point about the gas tax. We finally have low, affordable gas prices in Minnesota. Hiking those costs up could negatively impact businesses. But, raising license fees is an unsustainable solution as well because license fees are paid annually while gas taxes are paid whenever somebody fills up. In summary, an increase to the gas tax should raise more money and keep us at least in the business of keeping up with transportation costs, while license fees caps money that over time won’t keep up with road repair costs. Simply put, the State of Minnesota has to develop more transportation resources (the only Governor Ventura got right during his 1 term in office), a change, I’m sure the GOP just isn’t ready for.