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Endgame – A Way Out

The Minnesota state shutdown is dragging on with no end in sight. The sides aren’t meeting and Gov. Dayton is on a tour of the state to make his case. While there still hasn’t been a good poll on how the public feels, there are increasing signs that it is playing out much as I predicted last Friday. But at that time I didn’t include an endgame or a solution to the process. A few events and observations have led me to speculate on not just how this should end but how it could go down.

The answer is, as it always is, to get very real. There’s little substitute for leadership, and nothing creates leadership like a difficult time.

The evidence that there is something in the works is thin and requires something like the old “Kremlinology”, the study of the inner workings of the Soviet Union based on thin public statements. The DFL position has solidified as demands for a compromise of some kind dominate editorials while the Governor takes his case to the people. The initial attempt to pin blame on Gov. Dayton did not stick. Meanwhile, the twitter feeds of Republican spinners like Brodcorb and Mitch Berg have moved on from painting the Governor as an extremist to more personal stuff like his keeping the Governor’s staff up as an “essential service” to, most recently, calling for an immediate special session to pass an undisclosed “lights on” bill for the short term. Clearly, they recognize that the shutdown is hurting them more.

But the most damning movement comes from their own party, especially this editorial from former state Rep Dan Dorman in the Albert Lea Tribune. No softie or moderate, Dorman argues that the party’s ability to hold the Legislature is at stake and that a revolt by 10 key Republicans, combined with solid Democrat support, is all it will take to pass a budget. That’s serious stuff.

As much as we see evidence of movement, however, it’s not enough to get a budget passed – yet.

The real solution is actually very simple. A compromise passed today that splits the difference between the two sides would give the Legislature two years to take another swipe at it. Along with this there should be a commission appointed with very high profile people chartered with the responsibility of crafting an entirely new system that deals with the changing demographics, economics, and technology that is available. More than just a bi-partisan commission, this should be non-partisan – ideally headed up by a figure like Tim Penny of the Independence Party and with solid input organized by the Citizen’s League, the only organization in the state with the intellectual heft and ability to include ordinary people and non-partisan professionals who have studied these issues.

In short, it’s a punt to play defense. But it’s much more than that because wholesale reform of our entire system is absolutely necessary and politically palatable, as outlined in this recent interview with Tim Penny. It’s a must read for anyone who thinks the budget battle is completely intractable – it very much is not.

Why didn’t this happen during the six months that the Governor and Legislature had to work out a budget? To be fair, both were new and probably not ready to tackle something this serious right away. They also had to play out the hands they were given after the last election before they could get down to business. Time has passed, the hands have been played, and the cards are all down. It’s time for a, dare I say it, new deal. Lowercase new deal – in more ways than one.

Our current system dates from roughly 1969, when the “Minnesota Miracle” was first proposed by the Citizen’s League, and gradually implemented by the state in the early 1970s. It evened out revenue among local units of government, stabilized school funding, and moved the state to more progressive income tax based system. It’s been tinkered with a lot over the last 40 years, and most agree that what we have left is at best a pale shadow of what we had. That’s fair enough, as time passes and things change. A new system and new agreement among state and local governments is absolutely necessary. The way out of this budget fight is nothing less than a new “Miracle”.

So let’s make it happen. It will take time and it will take a lot of involvement from non politicians across the state. A quick compromise now and we have two years to make it happen. That’s what I see going down, or something like it. Difficult times like these often create real leadership and I see a lot of reasons why Minnesota may yet lead the nation in showing the way government can work properly.

14 thoughts on “Endgame – A Way Out

  1. I hope you are right because this is the best thing that could happen after all of this mess. It’s a brilliant analysis of what I also see happening and you were right so far that the longer this goes on the more the Republicans get the blame – and I think they know it. I’m going to stay hopeful. How long do you think this will take before we get the state government back?

  2. Ah, Erik:
    You wrote this: “Dorman argues that the party’s ability to hold the Legislature is at steak …” Very well put!
    Seriously, it is apparent that there are real budget issues, tied to aging population and infrastructure, declining manufacturing, other global trends not easily influenced at the state level … but the immediate “crisis” is almost purely artificial, and can be fixed by restoring rational taxation.

    I looked at the Citizens League page. I don’t know about past history, but felt I was reading about a neo-con, corporate-dominated wonk shop. Is this a mis-reading? (First thing I always go to is the list of Directors.) Maybe this could be a path to legitimize reasonable approaches among the ruling class?

  3. Anna: I say give it a week, maybe a bit more to get the special session together and get it passed. That does put us into late July, however, but I think this will be done before the end of the month.

    Alan: The Citizen’s League is a good organization and it has a lot of good people. However, like all non-profits, they have to do what they can to get money, however, so they do look awfully “professional” (to put it nicer than you did! 🙂 ). Don’t worry about that. They are the one group that could handle some genuine input from the public, especially people who have studied changing demographics.

  4. I’m not going to bet on them doing the right thing but I can see how doing something at least the half-a&&ed right thing has to happen – a compromise. So I guess there is always hope that something good can come of this. I will believe it when I see it.

    I have to tip my hat to you for finding a good way out though. If they do this it may look like stalling but a really po’d public could keep a blue-ribbon panel moving ahead. I guess we can always hope. But I’m still not going to bet on it.

  5. Jim, it’s like Churchill said: “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

    I think we simply ran out of other possibilities. 🙂

  6. I think you are optimistic on the timing but something like this will happen eventually The shutdown will end with some kind of compromise and there will have to be some kind of big reform but they may be separated by years. It might make sense to couple them together but I think for now the extremists on the right rule the debate and it will stay that way for a long time to come. If nothing else it is good to see someone shine a light on the need for reform because 8 years of Pawlenty patching the budget together with gimmicks has left us with a mess that will take a lot to clean up.

  7. Sheryl: Thanks, we’ll see!

    Kevin: You’re following my reasoning pretty well – what I describe here is something that has to happen eventually, it’s just a question of when. I’m hoping that by talking about it we can make it happen sooner rather than later. , so in a sense I’m cheating here. 🙂 I think we’re largely on the same page here and I hope you can join me in getting the message out as to what has to happen.

  8. What’s your take on Dayton accepting the last offer? It sounds like a complete surrender to me. I can’t believe we folded YET AGAIN!

  9. Anna, I see two possibilities:

    1) It’s a surrender, a punt until the mid-term election
    2) It’s a ploy to divide the Republicans because the most hard-core will not accept the tax increases that were part of the leadership proposal, meaning that once a Special Session is convened it won’t pass anyways – garnering only moderate Republican votes. Then another proposal that the DFL backs can be brought out for a win.

    Naturally, #1 is by far the most likely. However, the rumblings are that it is far more complex than it appears on the surface and I just gave you my best guess as to how it would play out if that is true.

    Stay tuned. I hope we didn’t give in, again, but it does look like we did. That’s not to say that a call for real reform shouldn’t start outside of the Legislature, however – it just makes it a lot harder.

  10. I think we gave up the store for nothing at all. I can’t see anyone who takes their job as a rep or senator seriously voting for this terrible “deal”! If there was the reform you proposed to work on over the next year I guess it might work as a way out of the immeidate problem but we didn’t even get that! I’m so mad right now I can’t believe we totally caved this easily for nothing!

  11. This deal stinks to high heaven and I would vote against it. The only way they could make it worse is to give the Vikings a stadium in with the package. What a crock of BS.

  12. Pingback: Blue Ribbon | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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