A Special Session is a Necessary Outcome

At the onset of the legislative session Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) established three specific priorities, which the legislature has largely ignored: Stable funding for transportation and transit, ditch buffers on agricultural lands to protect the state’s water supply from agricultural pollution and universal, voluntary pre-K education for four year-olds. Normally, governors get 85% of what they want and in each of these areas the legislature has come up drastically short.

This backhand delivered by the legislature to the governor only warrants its own corporal response. Governor Dayton should veto the Agricultural Finance and Natural Resources, and Education Bills and demand a Transportation Finance Bill in a Special Session. Especially because the Ag/Nat Bill effects many rural communities, which Republicans claim as their core constituency. The bills that are coming to his desk are woefully inadequate.

As we heard at the start of the legislative session this is the Governor Unbound, he should prove he embodies the self-declared moniker. It is important that the governor carry through with his threat to veto the Education Bill and by vetoing the Agricultural Finance and Natural Resources Bill he hits the Republican House right in their proverbial bread basket.

When one looks at the bills headed to the governor it is easy to see the slight.

The Transportation Omnibus Bill is a “Lights on Provision”, is mainly about policy and it enables a continuation of the discussion next legislative session, or when the legislature next meets. The bill does not address the governor’s concern for a stable funding resource to pay for road, bridges or transit needs.

There is no provision, study or any response to governor’s call for addressing or remediating the pollution caused by farm application of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. The agricultural industry has successfully asserted its influence forgoing any changes in agricultural policy or practice. This means farmers will continue to plant Round-Up Ready seeds, which are encased with the pollutants next season and our state’s waters are still in peril.

The E-12 Funding Bill lacks funding for any innovations in education and barely meets the effects of inflation. The only reason it does so is because inflation is at a historic low. After, nearly a decade of perpetual deficits, the Senate has succumbed to the pressures of the House, and made only moderate adjustments to the per pupil funding formula. If Minnesota seeks to reclaim its title as the “Brainpower state” it will need to wait for another opportunity.

During the press conference announcing the February Revenue forecast, we asked Governor Dayton if he consider his approach to be more of a long-term rather than a short-term as proposed by the House Republicans. He agreed with the premise of our question and thanked Publisher Shawn Towle for the idea, saying he was going to use that himself.

When one looks at the various budget bills it is hard to see any change in the funding mechanisms from past legislative sessions when the state faced large deficits. It is interesting to note in 1998, the DFL House Majority adjourned Sine Die because they for Baby Ed and Governor Arne Carlson (R) wanted Ex Post Facto legislation for Marvin Windows. When it became clear the House would not get what they wanted they adjourned Sine Die. Coincidentally, that is the same year the DFL lost the House Majority and Jesse Ventura (RP) became governor. In our opinion, this set the state on its path to ruin.

If we are to learn anything from the past it is our state moves forward when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Hagedorn’s Chances 2016, Slim to None

In 2014, Jim Hagedorn (R) defeated Aaron Miller (R) to contest again Congressman Tim Walz (D-01). In a beneficial year for Republicans, Walz trounced Hagedorn by 19,315 votes or 8.52%. In 2016, a Presidential election year, Hagedorn has announced his intent to try again in his attempt to follow in his father’s footsteps. Congressman Tom Hagedorn (R-MN01) 1977-1982, defeated by state Senator Tim Penny (D-New Richland).

We expect the margin will widen and Hagedorn, may lose by double digits. We expect there will be more than 250,000 people who vote in the 1st Congressional district and as the numbers increase it is proven to be an advantage to Democrats.

Additionally, this could also be helpful to Democratic legislative candidates in the district. A competitive race at the Congressional District level will increase the turnout in those respective districts as well.

The Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Session

Many consider politics to be the art of compromise and we agree, but often the best compromise is when each side is mutually dissatisfied rather than satisfied. With Republicans in control of the House and the DFL in control of the Senate and the Governor’s office, this session is setting up for a more disappointment then triumph. We are calling it the Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Session.

It is important to note legislators need both support and derision from their supporters. Since most people at the Capitol need to have a reason for being there they perpetuate the system. Even when the DFL once again retained full control in both houses and held the Governor’s office, their supporters were not overjoyed and completely content. Advocates for democratic causes continued to push for more and more. Now, some will argue, as in the case of Gay marriage, they pushed too hard and caused loss the DFL the majority in the House.

As people try to figure out what the ultimate resolve will be this session they may need to look backwards. In 1999, when Jesse Ventura, was Governor (RP) Sen. Roger Moe (DFL), Senate Majority leader, and Steve Sviggum (R), House Speaker and the legislative session seemed destined for gridlock and an intractable impasse, WCCO Radio reporter and Almanac Co-Host Eric Eskola proposed the one-third/one-third/one-third concept in a press conference, which he still will not take credit for, and that is what ultimately happened. We later asked Moe why he settled for such a poor deal and he confessed it was the best he could get.

As we are watching the last stages of the regular session, we can see a perfect excuse driven narrative from both sides. Hence the Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda idea. This excuse driven concept gives all sides their respective cover with allies and advocates, and blame for their opponents. Generally, this applies to DFL leaders, since they control two of the three stool legs.

Woulda means If Able and stated to supporters. It says something like-We would have funded schools more adequately, implying (as we would have had the DFL still been in complete control), but (blaming the opposition) the Republican House refused to agree and we needed to end without a Special Session.

Coulda is code for Missed Opportunity-We could have provided a stable funding source for roads, bridges (always invoking the specter of the 35W bridge collapse) and transit (only for DFLers), providing the monies we need to improve our transportation system.

Shoulda invokes a Moral Imperative-If only Republicans who have agreed we could have funded early education for 4 year olds and guarantee their futures as being far brighter. This is one of the major ways to improve the achievement gap and assist minority communities.

Structured Compromise, the Optics

It will be important for each side to prove it stood its ground and justify the support from their respective political constituencies. The DFL (Governor and Senate) have to appear compassionate and caring for those less fortunate, in spite of the fact poorer communities fail to vote in their own interests and never show up in high percentages at the polls. The House Republicans need to seem ramrod straight and resolved to fiscal conservatism, while at the same time providing monies for rural communities. This irony is not lost on us and is merely a political reality.

With Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) at the bully pulpit and having the louder microphone he can make Republicans seem heartless and insensitive, when advocating for his call for ditch buffers or pre-K education funding. He must also respond to the plight of avian flu and can call for targeting of emergency funds to be used to address the problem. This gives cover to House Republicans because it meets the need, but is not part of the current budget figures.

Earlier this week, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-31A, Crown) softened his stance on the $1.9 million surplus; from give it all back to $1.1 million. This change still ensures House Republicans control the majority of the money, but shows signs of erosion of their position. Outside of St. Paul, the give it all back mantra doesn’t sound like Republicans are willing to address needs in rural schools or other areas.

The positions taken by the Republicans on Higher Education show a dramatic departure between Republicans and DFLers, because the funding for MNSCU verses the U of MN system is now being portrayed in partisan terms.  Most of the U of MN campuses are in communities with DFL representatives (Minneapolis, St Paul and Duluth) whereas MNSCU has campuses throughout the state.

The pressures on Daudt are far greater than on his DFL opposition. One must remember, in spite of capturing an 11-vote victory last election he prevailed only after a 5-hour fight for the Speaker’s chair. This means he must placate specific constituencies in his caucus. His contest for Speaker was between himself, former Majority Leader Rep. Matt Dean (R-38B, Dellwood), Chair, Health and Human Services Finance and Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-22B, Mountain Lake) Chair, Agriculture Finance.

We spoke with Hamilton and he is completely satisfied with the House targets and support from leadership for his committee. Dean on the other hand, is the advocate for the dissolution of MN Care and this seems to be the most intractable for the DFL, House Republicans are targeting. DFLers need to be wary and not seem too beholden and protective of MNCare because if they do Republicans will extract other concessions in other areas during negotiations.

The real question is how do negotiations match-up?  If it is perceived that Daudt is in direct negotiations with Dayton then Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-03, Cook) appears as he is doing Dayton’s bidding. If the appearance is Dayton and Bakk on one side and Daudt on the other then any compromise where Daudt gives ground will be seen as weakness.

If we return back to Daudt’s position on the $1.9 million surplus the numbers matter. If he can say we gave back more than half he wins the argument. Now, when emergency funds and other resources are incorporated the numbers can change, but remember we are in a surplus economic stage. If the tax bill remains as is the revenues created by the DFL controlled process remain in place. The legislature does not need to pass a Tax Bill and revenue continues to flow. Meaning, there is more money coming in beyond the $1.9 million and then available next legislative session.

Why Would Bakk Say Not to Make Plans for May 19th?

The contractual agreement with the Capital restoration companies says that once the 2015 legislative session ends the contractors can begin dismantling the chambers. In order to prevent this from occurring and incurring additional costs if a Special Session is to be called and the House and Senate Chambers are to be used for legislating a Special Session would need to be called by Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) as soon as the current session ends.

If the House and Senate agree it is unlikely we will see individual Omnibus finance bills. As hours tick by we expect the likelihood of the need for a universal finance bill for all areas would need to occur. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-03, Cook) is publically discussing the unlikely end of this session on time. He is apt to quote his wife Laura, who says, “Why do they call it a Special Session because it occurs so frequently, why call it Special?”

Setting the Foundation for 2016

Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) is meeting significant resistance to his call for Pre-K funding and ditch buffers. These are two examples where an incremental approach might best apply. Each situation will require a time period before either can be fully implemented. School is nearly out for this year and farmers are already in the fields planting their crops. Each idea will need a period of time before each can be incorporated into the existing system.

If legislators agree to a process and a schedule for implementation which takes more than one-year, with the first year focused on the policy and the second year the funding it could create the distance needed to structure a legitimate compromise. With timing being the primary issue of significance, other factors come into play.

If both issues an effectively held off until 2016, we move into an election year.  With the Precinct Caucuses occurring in concert with the Presidential election the activist communities on both sides can gear up for the fights. With Pre-K education as a driver turnout for DFL Caucuses can be enhanced by issue advocates along with supporters for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) and in certain parts of the state Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In rural communities farmers can organize against ditch buffers and attend Republican Caucuses and express their opinions of opposition.

On a side note, with improvements in technology and scientific sampling the ability to make accurate assessments of environmental impacts from pesticides and herbicides should be far easier. We have always questioned the concept on non-site based pollution when it comes to agriculture. If poison flows downstream it comes from a source. That source being a piece of land farther up the stream. Every farmer is required to obtain a permit for pesticide and herbicide application.

This means a review of past applications combined with an assessment of what chemicals are present in the water can create a direct link to the originators. There is a specific chemical signature to nitrates, pesticides and herbicides.  If we target specific companies for Superfund clean-ups it seems as applicable in agriculture. Just because everyone did it doesn’t make it right and the liability for the water contamination is then readily applicable to the farmers and manufacturers of the specific chemicals pollutants.

Also, we have the capabilities to place chemical markers in all pollutants and then the application can be directly applied to the source of the dispersal.

Additionally, opponents may argue we need more time and more studies need to occur before we should do anything on this issue. Balderdash. More studies are not necessary they have known the adverse effects for over 30 years. It has been studied exhaustedly. The Agri-business wants to forgo any changes the same way the Tobacco Industry did regarding the ill effects of smoking. If the science seems muddled the action is unnecessary. This is total Hogwash.

Restorative Justice a Possibility

Last week, a group of protesters, some with handkerchiefs covering their mouths marched up to the House Chamber chanting, “Restore the Vote.” Some sported T-Shirts for MADDADS a group formed against gang violence.  They were supported in their cause by TakeAction Minnesota.

Afterword once the House session had let out we were present when two Republican members discussed the issue, one being Rep. Tony Cornish (R-23B, Vernon Center) Chair, Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance. His colleague asked Cornish, his position on Restorative Justice and he said, “I support it and have a bill for it, but it never had a hearing.” Cornish said, “But that doesn’t mean much at the end of the session.” This may mean the issue could be part of an overall negotiation or could gain strength on its own and be an amendment to other legislation.

It seems like a good idea to keep the pressure on and give people who have paid their debt to society their rights, which should never have been poached in the first place.

Historical fact, the loss of voting rights was a tactic first deployed in the Jim Crow South to disenfranchise newly minted African-American voters. In addition to creating false criminal charges the Southern judicial system invoked an additional penalty which is the removal of voting rights.

There is no reason to remove the voting rights of any offender no matter what the offense the two issues now connected do not belong together. In fact if institutions like prisons had to proctor an election it might make a big difference in certain communities. Those places have the imprisoned populations counted as residents during the US Census.

Interesting development, during yesterday’s Senate debate on the Election Bill Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-62, Minneapolis) had an amendment calling for prisoners to be counted in their home areas rather than in the place of their incarceration. This is an interesting idea, but what about people who are not Minnesota residents and live in other states, but are incarcerated here. In fact, many Federal inmates are from other localities. Should those remain counted here?