When Minnesotans hear the word “jump-start,” it usually comes in the form of a question (from one stranded motorist to some good Samaritan) during the final “acceptance” phase of a cold winter morning’s five-stages-of-grief melodrama. Cables are strung between two cars, furious praying takes place and, if all goes well, both parties are able to drive off smiling.
But in this case, I’m referring to the recent actions of state Rep. Mindy Greiling, the eight-term legislator from Roseville who chairs the House K-12 Education Finance Committee. She is trying to “jump-start” the legislative K-12 education funding process. This type of “jump-starting” is a shock to the taxpayers’ wallets rather than electricity from a battery.
Much like a bolt of electricity just two days after the Legislature adjourned on May 19, Rep. Greiling issued a press release announcing a series of public hearings on education funding that would be conducted throughout the summer and fall. The first hearing (like all of the hearings which are to be held at “neutral” sites like middle schools and educational services buildings), was on May 28 — a mere nine days after the 2008 legislative session wrapped up. So much for the idea of a part-time Legislature.
Most people would be willing to concede that, if K-12 education funding — particularly in a year that found the state with a billion dollar budget deficit — were cut, a series of town-hall meetings to discuss the situation would be a reasonable idea. However, Rep. Greiling’s quest via what looks like her own private special session — with the intent of an additional $1 billion a year in new state money for K-12 funding — came just days after the Legislature appropriated another $50 million increase for Minnesota’s K-12 students.
Why start so quickly after the session?
Why, when most legislators were trying to catch up on their sleep after a week of late-night floor sessions, did Rep. Greiling feel the need to “jump-start” a process of angling for additional K-12 funding? This discussion would normally start after the election in November or at the kickoff of the 2009 Legislative Session in January. Perhaps it has to do with Rep. Greiling’s sense of legislative entitlement — that it is education’s “turn” for a major funding increase. But more likely her desire is to “jump start” campaign contributions from the Minnesota teachers’ union PAC.
In 2006, Education Minnesota’s PAC gave more than half a million dollars to the DFL House Caucus and Central Committee, not to mention its contributions to individual campaigns. With this kind of cold cash on the line, is there any wonder why Rep. Greiling is so eager to start parading around the state to hear the inevitable whine of school districts, teachers and parents about why there isn’t enough money for K-12 education? These tales of woe have little fiscal truth when you look at the recent funding history of K-12 education in Minnesota. But why should that stop someone who’s doing it for “the children”?
Also, in a year when the state faced almost a $1 billion budget deficit, why were DFL legislators so intent on spending resources they didn’t have on increased funding for K-12 education? The simple answer is that Education Minnesota is the most powerful special-interest group in the state. From its dozens of lobbyists in the Capitol hallways to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spends to influence the outcomes of elections, it is apparent why Rep. Greiling is compelled to “jump” in response to wishes of the 70,000-member-strong teachers union.
Prospective funding shortfall could double
Another reason to start the drumbeat for more K-12 spending now is the likelihood that the state will be facing at a minimum a billion-dollar shortfall for the 2010-11 biennium. To make matters worse, that number could easily double in magnitude. So what is Rep. Greiling really doing? She is responding to the biggest special-interest group in the state, working to “jump-start” the K-12 funding process in order to fill the campaign coffers of her fellow Democrats.
After winning re-election in November, grateful DFL legislators will feel obligated to support huge tax increases, which in turn will provide big pay increases for teachers, all in the cause of “the children.” If citizens want transparency in government and in campaigns, they should take a hard look at the contributions and independent expenditures of Education Minnesota; its goals and intent are about as transparent as it gets.
Phil Krinkie, a former chairman of the House Taxes Committee, is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.
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