Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

The do-nothing Legislature

With three days to go, legislators should, finally, turn to the people’s business

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Sessions of the Minnesota Legislature have gained a reputation in recent years for limited accomplishment. This year, they seem to be outdoing even the low bar they’ve set for themselves.

With the regular session set to expire on Sunday, the list of accomplishments is so limited, it’s barely worth mentioning. As of midweek, the Legislature had not even reached agreement on the one thing they are definitely supposed to accomplish— a 2018 bonding bill.

While they might still complete that task by the end of the session, the measure approved by the House earlier this week is far too stingy to be considered a success. At a time when everyone agrees that the state’s infrastructure needs are critical and when historically-low interest rates are starting to creep higher, one can only ask what legislators are waiting for.

The governor’s bonding plan addresses true needs and takes advantage of low interest rates while they still exist.

At the same time, the Legislature has failed to address a long list of other policy and funding priorities, including emergency school funding that the governor has proposed to address immediate school budget deficits and prevent teacher layoffs and larger class sizes. The measure proposed by the governor would increase funding to area school districts by the following:

St. Louis County Schools-$317,926

 Ely Schools- $85,983

Nett Lake School- $20,963

Vermilion Country School- $9,061

These funding increases would be felt in the classroom at a time when there’s growing public awareness of the importance of education in providing the next generation with the tools needed to be successful in an economy in rapid transition. Minnesota is falling behind again in education funding and the Legislature should find that unacceptable.

The Legislature has also failed to act on the governor’s proposal to allow Minnesotans to buy into the state-run health insurance program known as MinnesotaCare. At a time when choice is increasingly limited in the individual insurance market, the governor’s plan would offer a public option available in all corners of the state that would provide quality coverage for a very competitive price. Why wouldn’t the Legislature want to expand choice and access to quality health insurance? Whose interests are they really serving in St. Paul?

It’s a similar question on the subject of opioid addiction, where lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry have managed to block efforts to curb opioid abuse and require the industry to pay some of the cost of addressing this public health scourge. The state Senate passed the measure overwhelmingly, but the lobbying effort appears to have convinced GOP leaders in the House to block the measure, allowing Big Pharma to bank the profits from the opioid epidemic they helped create without taking any responsibility. It’s a shame.

The Legislature also failed to act to recover $200 million in revenues lost as a result of the federal GOP tax bill, which exempted profits sheltered overseas from taxation by the states.

For big corporations, it’s been a windfall session. But for Minnesota students, teachers, the elderly, and those seeking decent, affordable health insurance, it’s been a bust.

At least there’s still time. In the final days, we urge legislators to reconsider their priorities and show they can actually do the people’s business for a change.

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