Hopes for a new year
Fixing the state budget, and what ails Washington, school district

With a new year just getting under way it’s an appropriate time to start thinking about the steps we could take to make 2013 better than 2012.

Let’s start with the Minnesota state Legislature. The prospects for a productive session are brighter this year after a decade of partisan bickering and gridlock.

First order of business for the Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature as well as the governor’s office, is getting the state’s financial house in order. Minnesota has lurched from one fiscal crisis to the next thanks to a succession of patchwork solutions that relied heavily on gimmicks such as borrowing from schools to balance the budget. The state needs to build a sound budget plan that sustains the state for the long-term instead of slapping another Band-Aid on a projected deficit of more than $1 billion.

We could make many of the same points about the U.S. Congress, which currently rates below colonoscopies on the popularity scale when it comes to public opinion. Most Americans want Congress to deal with key issues such as restructuring the U.S. economy, becoming more energy efficient and addressing climate change. Congress, however, squanders much of its time, manufacturing drama by turning a routine process such as setting the debt ceiling into a full-scale squabble. Our message to our leaders is simple. Stop wasting time and effort on trivial pursuits and start taking care of business. That’s what you were elected to do.

Shifting the focus to more local concerns, it’s time for Johnson Controls Inc. to stop abusing the judicial system to avoid allowing the public access to contracts used to construct and remodel schools in ISD 2142. The agency’s most recent efforts convinced the Supreme Court to review an Appeals Court decision that the contracts are public. JCI likely doesn’t anticipate the Supreme Court to overrule that decision, but it buys the company more time and serves notice that anyone willing to hold JCI to account will need a great deal of patience and, in most cases, deep pockets.

Not only does it unnecessarily delay public scrutiny of a very public project, but also it prevents the school district, which has been kept out of the loop on the contracts, from seeking reimbursement for design flaws or work that failed to meet codes and had to be redone. At a time when the district is slashing its own budget, cutting teaching staff and eliminating activity buses, any additional revenue that the district can obtain is welcome. Board members, instead of waiting placidly for a court ruling, should be filing a brief in support of exposing the contracts to public scrutiny. They’ve been played for patsies by JCI and can expect more of the same the longer they sit on the sidelines on this key issue.

Finally, let’s all resolve to start working to make 2013 a prosperous and happy new year for everyone. You don’t have to sit on a school board or city council to make a difference in your community. Even random acts of kindness can change a person’s outlook for the year ahead.

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