Special session failure cements gridlock as new norm

Published 12:35 pm Sunday, August 21, 2016

We’ve noticed an alarming trend at local government meetings in recent weeks: Faith in our state leaders’ ability to compromise on key issues is almost nonexistent.

But it seems that mood is justified. We and others across the state are disappointed to hear Gov. Mark Dayton’s announcement Thursday that he will no longer seek a special session to pass public works and tax relief bills. However, we can’t say we’re surprised.

At local city, school board and county meetings in recent weeks, any talk of the special session and the state’s gridlock has been met, at best, with skepticism and, at worst, with anger.

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Multiple former legislators have even expressed surprise at the unprecedented inability for state leaders to give and work together.

Then Thursday’s announcement came after Republican and DFL leaders have not been able to reach an agreement on the bills — in large part because of disagreements about funding for a light rail project in the Twin Cities.

The special session’s failure proved the skepticism of local leaders right, and it stings even more to know the failure feels expected.

It is unfortunate that a lack of compromise led to a lack of progress on so many large bills.

The $1 billion-plus bonding bill included millions of dollars in water infrastructure upgrades to meet Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards for cities like Austin and $7.5 million for Riverland Community College’s Albert Lea campus. And Austin could have been in line for an additional $164,000 in local government aid and potentially some funding for waterways projects.

Cities like Austin, Albert Lea and others our size rely on these bills for economic development and wish the Legislature had been able to reach a compromise.

The tax bill would have provided tax relief for veterans, farmers, businesspeople and middle-class residents.

Then, there’s the transportation bill that is crucial for all parts of the state, including Freeborn County.

The Legislature on both sides agreed on the need for $600 million a year to address transportation concerns, but disagreed on the sources for the funding and whether the metro transit should be included in the package.

Meanwhile, roads in Austin and Mower County — and across the state — continue to deteriorate.

Transportation has been a major source of concern in Mower County as the county board has discussed ways to address an annual $6.5 million funding shortfall over the next 10 years.

Earlier this month, the county board voted to enact a half-cent sales tax for roads and bridges starting in 2018, as commissioners opted to wait a year as a way of urging the state to act on the dire roads need.

However, it would appear the message hasn’t hit home yet.

Commissioners have already voiced fears that some of Mower’s more than 400 miles of paved roads would have to go back to gravel, and this setback certainly doesn’t help. This only further delays much-needed fixes to the roads. The longer we wait, the larger — and more costly — the problem becomes.

But like we said, no one is that surprised that our state leaders — both Democrats and Republicans — failed to reach a deal to meet for a special session, and that is what’s most disappointing. Our Legislature has attained a new normal — uncompromising gridlock.

The Legislature and Dayton must put politics aside for the better of the state.