Editorial: Legislature gives little reason for optimism

Rochester Republican Sen. Dave Senjem wrapped up the legislative review breakfast hosted by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday the same way he always does.

He thanked the out-town-lawmakers for being there. He thanked the Chamber members and guests for being there. He was as upbeat and positive as he's ever been. It's what we've come to expect from our region's congenial senior legislator.

But with all due respect to Sen. Senjem, we have to say we were dumbfounded by his extensive comments about how well lawmakers from opposing parties get along.

"You hear a lot about how (ugly) things are between us," he said. "Despite what you read in the newspaper it's not that way. I could go out to dinner with Sen. (Terri) Bonoff (the DFL Sen. from Minnetonka who was part of Tuesday's legislative panel), and I'd even buy."

He ended with this: "There's a rainbow ahead."


Pardon us for choking on our bacon.

We Minnesotans just endured the longest state government shutdown in the history of the nation. Thousands of state employees lost their jobs for two weeks. Dozens of businesses that rely on state contracts and permits were shut down. Thousands of residents had to cancel their vacation plans because state parks were closed.

Why? Because the leaders of two political parties, who we're supposed to believe get along just great, acted like children for months and turned their backs on one another.

And, maybe we were at a different meeting than you, Sen. Senjem, but the tone of Tuesday's discussion didn't exactly sound all that collegial and friendly to us.

Rep. Duane Quam, his voice raised, told the audience that he's irritated the GOP-Legislature is continually being accused of cutting Local Government Aid. "They're getting the same in '11 as they did in '10," the Republican lawmaker said. "How is that a cut?"

When asked what was the biggest accomplishment of the 2011 Legislature, three Republican lawmakers said the greatest achievement of our two legislative bodies was something they didn't do.

"The biggest gain was that we didn't pass a $39 billion budget," Republican Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester said. "That would have been a $4 billion tax increase."

That was a blatant slap at the DFL and Gov. Mark Dayton, in reference to the size of his proposed budget. In the end, the Legislature passed a $35 billion budget.


But Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL Brooklyn Park, said the budget agreement worked out by the governor and GOP legislative leaders is nothing to be proud of.

"Income taxes weren't increased, but your property taxes will go up," she said. "The tobacco settlement money that was to be used to counter the effects of smoking, all of that will be used up. We've yet again borrowed from our schools to balance the budget. We're seeing the largest cut in higher education in the history of Minnesota."

But GOP Rep. Mike Benson countered that the state can't spend its way out of its financial problems.

"If all we can do is talk about how to get more revenue we're going to keep ending up in the same place," he said.

DFL Rep. Kim Norton said one of her biggest disappointments of the 2011 session was that DFL legislators were basically shut out of the budget planning process by the GOP majority.

A rainbow ahead?

You can talk all you want, Sen. Senjem, about how well legislators from both parties get along behind closed doors. But the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding smells pretty rancid to us right now.

The fact that there were at least five seconds of silence after the legislative panel was asked to list the greatest accomplishments of the 2011 Legislative session speaks volumes.


Handshakes, smiles and friendly dinner conversation are fine. But we want a whole lot more than that from the men and women who represent us in St. Paul. We want results.


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