The following is an editorial that appeared in The Free Press in Mankato.
MANKATO — Some challenges the Minnesota Legislature faces this year are monumental; some are doable.
A record of getting half the hard things done, and all of the easy ones, should be the goal.
Of course, among the difficult issues will be balancing the state’s projected $5.4 billion deficit.
That won’t be easy, and the solutions, with a lame-duck governor who will have no fear of using his veto pen, will need to be bipartisan.
The governor isn’t running again, so he could play hardball and use his upper hand to do a lot of whacking upside the head, but we hope he doesn’t resort to this kind of smackdown politics. He is, after all, leaving his colleagues in a minority that hopes to gain on the majority. That should be some motivation for him to be reasonable. That, and he should take a little Minnesota pride is being part of the state that has a history of addressing and solving its problems.
That said, here’s our short list of what the Legislature should get done.
Election reform. This should be an easy one. There are too many things that can be easily fixed in our election system for the Legislature and governor not to make progress on some of them. Voter picture I.D. is a controversial subject and it should probably have a separate vote apart from more bipartisan election reforms. One such reform, for example, would allow absentee ballots to be counted at the county level, instead of moving those ballots on election day to be counted at the precinct level. It just makes no sense to do it this way and there is risk that ballots could be lost or damaged.
There were several other good ideas in the election reform from last year, including using electronic voter registration and using technology to match voter lists with registrations.
Budget deficit. This, of course, will be a huge issue, controversial and resistant to a compromise solution. But another round of unallotment is not a solution. Both sides need to offer their proposals and there needs to be a concerted effort to meet in the middle.
Fewer than 10 years ago Minnesota’s tri-partisan government, with Independence governor Jesse Ventura, was able to come to a compromise on the issue.
Jobs. While government policy is never the main driver of jobs or loss of jobs, there are some small, inexpensive, ways to give businesses a boost. One idea was to not require businesses to file for a sales tax refund on money that is theirs to begin with. Another involves giving tax credits to so called “angel investors” to provide gap financing for businesses finding it difficult to get a loan from banks.
GAMC. Some 35,000 poorest of the poor could lose their health care in Minnesota because the General Assistance Medical Care program was cut through Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment. While the governor’s plan is to move those people over to MinnesotaCare, there appear to be differences in the two systems. Coverage for MinnesotaCare ends at $10,000. Many of these people have bills far beyond that, and the difference will be paid by hospitals. The MinnesotaCare application is 13 pages long with nine proof documents required. Many on GAMC have mental health issues and thousands of them will not be able to fill out these forms.
These are the poorest of the poor economically, and have very poor mental health as well. If we believe in helping “the least of our brothers,” these are the folks we need to assist.
This year will be one of the most challenging in history for our state’s political leaders. We would like to believe they can meet the standard of problem-solving that has been our state’s history. But in this political climate, that may be a distant hope.
Reprinted with permission of The Free Press.