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COL Lost art of compromise

Former Gov. Carlson calls for return to moderation

Early this week, former Gov. Arne Carlson spoke in Rochester. He clearly longs for the old days. His lament isn't so much that he wishes a return to the governor's mansion. Rather, he argues that state government desperately needs its leaders to return to middle-of-the-road politics. By leaders, he means Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

As governor, Carlson wore the lost label of Independent Republican. Carlson was a political force of moderation and refuses to believe that the philosophy of reasoned compromise cannot return. His hope is both for what he calls "his" party and the state.

With reason comes compromise, which in turn tends to deliver moderate government. By another term, moderate government is a government that accomplishes its work.

Compromise has but the faintest of fingerholds in the current debate to craft a 2006-07 state budget. Stubbornness has replaced compromise, and moderation has been eclipsed by idealism.

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For example, last Thursday, the DFL-led Senate passed a transportation bill that included a constitutional amendment that would dedicate 100 percent of the state's vehicle registration tax toward transportation needs. The bill also included a proposal to increase the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon; that matched the transportation proposal from the Republican-controlled House. The gas tax exists only because enough moderate lawmakers saw a need to compromise.

The registration tax dedication provision was one of Pawlenty's key demands for any transportation bill. The inclusion of it in the DFL Senate bill can be taken as an olive branch.

Pawlenty brushed aside the DFL compromise by saying thanks for the thought, but because the bill included a 10-cent gas tax, he would veto it. The veto rises from Pawlenty's pledge not to sign any tax increase. Pawlenty refuses to compromise, even though the legislative session is set to end Monday.

Carlson blasts Pawlenty, saying he has already broken the no-tax-new pledge. As an example, Carlson cites several fee increases, and Pawlenty's proposal to raise local property taxes to supplement state support for K-12 education. Truth, Carlson said, is the first step toward compromise.

Yet, when Pawlenty looks to poll numbers that show he has significant public support for his line-in-the-sand position on taxes, he must surely ask why he should compromise when his own political standing is solid.

What would make Pawlenty turn away from the proven success of hardball politics and compromise? The only answer would be a rejection by voters.

What could turn voters away from their current opinions? One possibility is if government fails to function.

The need for yet another special session to give lawmakers more time to do their work is a virtual lock. Unless there is some give by Pawlenty or legislative leaders, the drop-dead date of June 30 for a government shutdown could come and go without the passage of a budget.

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The apparent inability to compromise on a transportation bill indicates the state is on the tracks toward a breakdown. Compromise is the only way out.

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