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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

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St. Cloud Times, May 27

No matter what, 2015 session is a failure

As discouraging as it is that the 2015 Legislature will need a special session to finish its work, it is encouraging the three people most to blame for overtime are working this week to make that session happen quickly.

Gov. Mark Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk gathered Tuesday at the governor's mansion, with more discussions expected Wednesday.

A couple of points came quickly into focus. First, with the Capitol under remodeling, they settled on a special-session venue — the State Office Building. Second, based on comments from Bakk, it's clear Dayton and Daudt will do the heavy lifting — and compromising — required to avoid a partial state government shutdown July 1.

Plus, with the indication the session will last only one day, it's clear their deal-making will be done behind closed doors. How else are you going to get a divided Legislature to approve what could be six bills in less than 24 hours?

Yes, we said six bills — which raises another unsettling development about this special session. Shouldn't its agenda be limited to the three bills Dayton vetoed?

Apparently that's not what key leaders are thinking. As of Wednesday, reports indicated a bonding bill, a legacy bill and a tax bill could be taken up, along with the three bills the governor vetoed: the education bill, the environment-agriculture bill and the jobs-energy bill.

Central Minnesotans should be truly astounded by the ineptness displayed on both sides of the aisle in this 2015 session. The state's 201 legislators, along with Dayton, not only had more than four months to craft a two-year state budget, but they had an extra $1.9 billion to help negotiate their way through any hurdles.

Instead, they followed a path that's become all too familiar the past decade or so. First, each side staked out its political grounds. Then they all dawdled for a few months while awaiting official budget projections. Finally, a handful of elected officials spent the last few days of the regular session behind closed doors trying to create — ahem — compromises from their original positions.

For the third time, though, in about 10 years they failed. So now Minnesotans again must wait for those same leaders to go back behind those closed doors and do the public's business. Success means a two-year budget resolved in secret. Failure means a partial government shutdown.

Honestly, though, whatever the outcome, it's a legislative failure. Again.


Rochester Post-Bulletin, May 27

Doing too much can leave much undone

The blame game is in full effect. After Minnesota's legislative session ended with unfinished business and Gov. Mark Dayton vetoing three major bills, there's plenty of opportunities for finger-pointing.

Amid the blaming, however, few fingers are pointing at the process, which appears to share blame with political parties and individuals.

Rep. David Bly, the ranking DFLer on the House Agriculture Policy Committee, came close Monday, noting emergency funding for the state's avian influenza crisis was possible. "Today, I'm hearing House Republican Majority members express concerns that Gove. Dayton's veto puts farmers at risk," he stated in a press release days after the Environment and Agriculture Omnibus bill was rejected. "Gov. Dayton repeatedly directed the legislature to send him a standalone bill to provide the emergency funding. In the final days of the legislative session, I stood up five times and asked my colleagues to suspend the rules and send a clean bill to the governor."

He's right; the emergency funding could have been — and should have been — handled differently. But so should many measures that were derailed by inaction or vetoes.

The governor's buffer strip efforts are stalled in the same bill that delays funding for the bird flu response. The veto stems from several unrelated objections to a bill that may be doing too much at one time.

It's the nature of Minnesota politics. Smaller measures are routinely set aside for larger omnibus bills on a general topic. They may be added to balance political strategies or grouped together to save time on the House and Senate floors. Regardless of the reasons, they eventually create bills that can put many issues in jeopardy based on objections to a single topic. After Dayton vetoed two omnibus bills during the weekend, House DFL Leader Paul Thissen noted, "Each bill contained a number of objectionable items that can be fixed or improved during a special session."

But they are also items that could have been separated before approval, without putting countless other measures in jeopardy.

Locally, Olmsted County commissioners are waiting for approval to form a HRA board headed by elected officials, and Rochester property owners are facing bigger tax bills for Destination Medical Center expenses because of unrelated objections. Neither local measure has an impact on the state budget. Yet, they are tied to bills involving the state's spending plans.

Despite what Rep. Greg Davids says, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. In the case of the DMC funding, several area lawmakers attempted to offer a smaller bill that could pass without an overall tax bill, but time ran out.

Now, it's time for our state leaders to realize that large, omnibus bills aren't saving time for taxpayers. They are delaying results and leaving work left undone.

It's a simple case of attempting to do too much and achieving too little.


The Free Press of Mankato, May 26

Bridges need funding

Structurally deficient is a term anyone would not want to hear crossing a bridge.

But we will have to use that term as we cross more and more bridges every year in Minnesota. The number of structurally deficient bridges make up 6.5 percent of all bridges in Minnesota. For bridges controlled by local units of government, nearly 8 percent are structurally deficient.

In Blue Earth County, the number of structurally deficit bridges went from seven to 12 in about a year's time. Other regional counties have even more structurally deficient bridges. Faribault County has a whopping 32 deficient bridges out of a total of 213, or nearly 15 percent.

An Association of Minnesota Counties report shows a total of 830 deficient bridges statewide.

Many rural counties seem to be on the far end of the funding stream. While the state typically supplies bonding for bridge repair and maintenance, the funds have mostly gone to major bridge projects in the metro areas, according to Blue Earth County engineer Al Forsberg.

And as Blue Earth County Board Chairman Vance Stuehrenberg notes, bridges are critical in rural areas because they are key transportation lines for getting farm goods to market. The more farmers have to drive alternative routes because bridges aren't safe, the more money they will spending on fuel and time. That raises the prices of products for everyone.

The county association and road transportation groups as well as bipartisan business groups like Greater Mankato Growth have generally determined that more road and bridge funding is needed beyond the current revenue stream.

But while revenue is important, funding equity should be just as big a concern. MnDOT has always had a slight bias fixing the heavier-trafficked roads and bridges first. But there must be a realization that roads are just as critical in outstate Minnesota for consumers and commerce.

Very few people are arguing about the evidence. More bridges are becoming structurally deficient, especially in outstate Minnesota. The Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton must come to a solution that makes a dent on reducing the number of deficient bridges.


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