Legislature needs to compromise, find common ground

Two weeks ago, at one minute after midnight on Tuesday, May 24, the Minnesota Legislature went into special session. This was one minute after the regular session adjourned because of a constitutional deadline. I was glad to see us begin the special session as soon we did. I believe it’s important that we get this process finished as quickly as possible and in a way that strengthens our schools and health care system.

This is the fourth time in the last five budget sessions that the Legislature couldn’t agree on a budget before the deadline for adjournment. Conflicts between legislators and Gov. Arne Carlson over education funding sparked special sessions in 1995 and 1997. (Interestingly, over the past few years, Carlson has become a frequent and eloquent spokesman on the need for increasing state revenue to protect education and programs for senior citizens and children.)

In 2001, a total shutdown of state government was avoided by just a few hours when an agreement between Gov. Jesse Ventura and leaders of the republican-led House and DFL-led Senate reached a compromise agreement. In 2003, it took a week of special session to reach an agreement.

Of course, we all know what happened a year ago, when an agreement wasn’t reached and the Legislature convened without passing any major bills.

As in the past few years, the differences are over balancing spending and revenue. We’re actually in a better position this year because there is consensus on the biggest issue — the need for increased school funding.

Where we’re having trouble is deciding how we’re going to pay for the spending. Senate Democrats are pushing for an income tax increase on the state’s wealthiest citizens, those making $250,000 or more, and closing loopholes that allow some companies with branches in other countries to avoid paying their fair share of state taxes. The governor wants to increase property taxes and fees and borrow the rest.

I think we’ll eventually be able to settle on a compromise when it comes to our schools. There’s just too much bipartisan support for it to fall apart.

The real fight, however, will be over health care. While I agree with the governor that health care costs need to be reined in, I’m not sure his approach is going to accomplish that. Most of the proposals put forward by the governor and the House majority simply shift costs onto hospitals, clinics and other providers. Eventually, those shifts are paid by all of us. I’m also concerned about the notion that it’s okay to balance the budget on the backs of close to 30,000 Minnesotans who will lose their health insurance.

Still, I remain optimistic that an agreement can be worked out. I want everyone in Oakdale and Maplewood to know that I will do what I can to ensure that we get our work done and get it done right. I want to make sure that our schools are taken care of, that working Minnesotans don’t lose their health care and that every Minnesotan has the opportunity to succeed.

It may take awhile to figure out a way to make all of that happen, but I remain confident that we’ll get there eventually.

I particularly want to hear your suggestions and advice about the special session. Please contact me at the Capitol at 296-7807, by e-mail at rep.nora.slawik@ house.mn or by mail at 357 State Office Building, 100 MLK Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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