By PHIL KRINKIE – Guest Columnist
When it comes to trying to gauge the success of a particular Legislative Session, it is difficult at best.
In recent weeks there have been numerous stories and reports referring to the 2012 Legislative Session as the "do nothing session." So how should one measure the success or failure of any legislative biennium?
Is legislative session success be measured by the number of bills signed into law by a governor? In most situations legislative accomplishments are in the eye of the beholder. For example, those with more liberal philosophies may be more inclined to view new laws on the books as a good thing, while conservatives might favor repeal of laws, or certainly fewer new laws.
Each time lawmakers gather at the Capitol to debate the issues at hand the outcome is unknown. There are different people, different topics, different economic conditions and certainly different opinions. But regardless of the issues of the day, the one constant throughout the years is the determination of the state budget.
As we are all aware, the primary function of the state House and Senate bodies is to appropriate the funds necessary for operation of state government. No one will soon forget the stalemate that occurred last year as the legislature deadlock with Gov. Mark Dayton on how to resolve the State’s $5 billion dollar budget shortfall. The confrontation lasted into July and resulted in the longest disruption to state services in history. But even this logjam wasn’t the longest legislative session in state history.
In 1971, newly elected Gov. Wendell Anderson laid out a plan to dramatically increase income taxes in order to increase K-12 funding and reduce property taxes. His plan ran into stiff opposition from the Legislature. The impasse lasted through the summer and into the fall before Anderson’s plan was passed by the Legislature in October.
Another interesting Legislative Session was in 1979 following the election that left the Minnesota House with an equal number of DFL and GOP members – 67. It took three months of negotiations before they could decide on legislative leadership and committee chairmanships. The result was truly bipartisan governance.
Each legislative body is unique and each legislative session is different. Seldom can the accomplishments be measured until the next election, or even many years later.
After adjournment, the public policy pundits will weigh in with their analysis of the legislative highs and lows. There will be assessments of the performance of the governor, of legislative leadership in both the House and Senate and individual lawmakers will be judged as well for their actions and inactions.
While it might be considered dry and bland, a perspective that is often overlooked is the importance of the bottom line, the fiscal state of the state. Was the budget balanced into the next biennium? Were taxes increased or decreased? Whose taxes went up and whose went down? Was the state debt increased or decreased and by how much?
These are the real issues that should be examined at the close of each session. With the 2012 legislature soon to adjourn, let’s examine the real record, the state’s balance sheet. The headlines will soon be filled with rather meaningless trivia about various bills; like what fireworks may or may not be legal, or if beer will be served at TCF stadium, and of course, the media can’t get enough of the Vikings stadium debate. But is anybody writing about the cash flow of our state, or how much more has been put on the state’s credit card?
The real measure of success or failure of the Legislative Session is contained in the fiscal record book, not in the media’s play-by-play. The question to ask is how did lawmakers manage the billions of dollars in taxpayer money?
Were they wise stewards of the states’ resources or did they squander tax dollars on unnecessary projects and programs? Did they leave the State in better financial condition than when they arrived? These are difficult but important questions to answer. If there is a true assessment of success for the Legislative Session it’s to be found in the numbers not in the headlines. While not glamorous, putting Minnesota back on sound financial footing is the single most important job for our lawmakers. Our state’s fiscal health should be front and center in any post Session analysis.
Phil Krinkie, a former eight-term Republican state representative is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.