Budget-setting process is broken in Minnesota

The 2019 session and special session have ended. There have been several articles published recently sharing the outcome of the final bills. I was planning on sharing with you some of these end-of-session accomplishments. However, I find I’m unable to put a spin on what happened and celebrate when I don’t feel we accomplished what was truly important for people.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea

It took a 21-hour special session, but a compromise was finally achieved to produce another two-year budget for Minnesota. That is good. I am happy with a number of things that were accomplished in the legislature this year, though I do not feel we are focusing enough on our core state priorities.

Though some legitimately good legislation was achieved for Minnesotans within this budget, I feel compelled to raise some serious concerns.

Some are lauding the ease and speed of getting these bills put together and “agreed” upon, but I cannot – not when I observed the bulldozing of the democratic process that took place; not when I see all the dysfunction.

Process matters in a constitutional representative democracy like we have. It matters greatly that citizens have a strong voice in their government through their elected representatives and through the legislative process. It also matters greatly that the process is transparent so that people can carry on their rightful vigilance of government and of those they’ve elected to represent them.

During the last two days of our regular legislative session, three people essentially wrote all the final bills that contain our state budget – the leader of the House, the leader of the Senate, and the governor. They did this behind closed doors and without public input, and with little to no input from the people’s elected representatives.

The process went like this: the two legislative leaders and the governor (along with some of the governor’s commissioners) spent 30 minutes on each omnibus bill the night before session was to be done. They met in a private room with the Senate and House chairs of their respective committees for 15 minutes. Then they asked the two chairs to leave and this select “Power Team” took another 15 minutes to decide what would and would not be in the committee’s final bill. Repeat for each bill.

Because these leaders were so late in agreeing upon budget targets, they felt compelled to abdicate the conference committee process and shoved these bills through behind closed doors all in the name of getting them done “quickly and smoothly.” How can abandoning the very process that brings transparency and a voice for Minnesotans be a good thing? It’s not!

Process matters because people matter.

That three people should have this much power is very concerning to me. That the governor (who is part of a separate branch of government) was so intimately involved in crafting legislation – giving a “yea” or “nay” to bill provisions as part of this secret process – is troubling as well.

The governor had already been appropriately involved in the legislative process both before session began and again during session. Why should he be allowed an extra veto pen prior to the one he gets when those bills land on his desk?

Folks, the system is broken, and it has been for quite some time.

I believe the core problem of this legislative dysfunction centers in the huge 300 to over 1,000 page omnibus bills that are chock-full of a myriad of legislative initiatives. Radical legislation, some of which would never even make it to the floor for lack of votes, gets stuffed into these omnibus bills instead of coming for a vote as independent bills. This results in huge bills that are full of hundreds of pages of various provisions and containing many “poison pills” that must be hashed out at the end of session. It simply degrades and ruins the legislative process.

It is time to reform this broken process for the health of our government and for the sake of the people. There are legislators and others on both sides of the aisle who agree that the system has been broken for some time and it needs to be fixed. I am one of those legislators and am committed to finding solutions to reform this dysfunctional system and get it working for the people. That’s what Minnesotan’s deserve.

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