Lawmaking requires civil disagreement, careful compromise

Minnesota's 201 legislators gathered in St. Paul on Jan. 24 for the start of the 2012 session. They come with good intentions and a general commitment to public service. They deserve our appreciation and encouragement for their service. Sometimes they need our patience and prayers for the many tough decisions they face.

We can also be proactive by continuing to be informed and sharing our comments and advice. Go to the Senate ( or House ( websites to follow legislation, schedules, and legislative contact information.

Recent legislative sessions have had both high and low times. Every session is an opportunity for moving Minnesota in a positive direction and making our state government more friendly, efficient and effective. Here are some ideas from someone who has "been there/done that."

• Bonding (borrowing money for capital projects) should be the primary focus during this even-year session. Given the fact that $500 million in bonding was adopted in the 2011 session, let's hope for a very modest bonding bill in 2012. Given the financial roller coaster in our state and the need for limiting government growth, let's not go overboard on the state's credit card. Seems like no more than $500 million should be added (this would bring the two-year total to a rather large $1 billion).

While we are at it, let's take a comprehensive look at the broken bonding process. Not long ago, total requests were not much more than $1 billion. Proposals were either for state-owned assets or  those of obvious statewide impact. Somewhere along the way, the climate changed and a flood of local projects overwhelmed our state taxpayer credit card. This feeding frenzy for "other people's money" results in unproductive local competition and political power games. It's time to restrict bonding to only state-owned assets and eliminate all local projects. Our Capitol, for example, is in major need of repair and should not be competing with local projects.


• Continue major reform and re-engineering of state government. This should be a unified, bipartisan effort to make our state government work more effectively and efficiently for the people. Re-inventing government may be the only way to bring long-term fiscal stability to our state budget. It can also help restore public confidence. How about holding a regular or special session where the only bills considered would be to repeal outdated and ineffective current statutes? What a terrific opportunity.

• Turn down the partisanship a notch. It is amazing that election reform (Voter ID) has become a partisan issue when 80 percent of informed voters favor the measure. How can Democrats explain that every one of them is opposed? Honest, fact-based debate on issues is welcomed and important, but pure partisanship should not prevail on most issues.

• Disagree passionately, but do so in a civil manner. The people of Minnesota have elected a liberal governor and a conservative Legislature, so we should not be surprised that there are strong disagreements at times. Debate the issues, but avoid personal slurs. Not to diminish important serious subjects, but a sense of humor is often a tension-reliever.

• Compromise, but do so carefully. A spirit of fair-minded compromise is helpful in difficult negotiations. However, compromise can be abused. Sometimes parties purposely establish outrageous positions just to obtain a "halfway" position that moves an issue incrementally in their intended direction. Much of our national and state fiscal difficulties are the result of these progressive compromises.

• Think long-term, especially about unintended consequences. The Minnesota constitutional requirement for a balanced budget applies only to the next biennium. We need leaders who deal with long-term fiscal and policy implications of proposed legislation and budgets.

• Adopt legislation to prevent future shutdowns. A simple "continuing resolution" or "lights on" agreement could have avoided last year's shut down. Why make state residents and public employees suffer when simple approaches like these can avoid shutdowns.

Legislators, thanks for your service. Good luck to you all.

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