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Thursday, March 29, 2007

More Fat Added to the Minnesota DFL Pork Fest

After ramming through $900 million of tax and spending increases in a transportation bill last Saturday, the DFL led Minnesota House continued its assault on taxpayers on Tuesday by passing a bonding bill of over a quarter billion dollars on a 84-45 vote. Technically, there should not even be the discussion of a bonding bill in this session as such bills are usually reserved for “the bonding session” in even-numbered years.

This session continues the disturbing mega-spending trend of the Minnesota Legislature as a $1 billion bonding bill was passed in each of the last two years. Traditionally bonding bills during the "budget session” (odd-numbered) years are only supposed to deal with emergency needs, but the $290 million bill had only $8 million of realistic emergency projects: $2 million of flood relief for Browns Valley and $6 million of emergency repairs to the Oak Park Heights prison.

The DFL leadership saw fit to expand the definition of "emergency spending" to include:
$2 million for a high-speed train between Chicago and St. Paul (a House Republican opined that Chicago residents could zoom to Minnesota, pick up their welfare checks, and be back in time to join Jerry Springer’s studio audience).

Adding another $30 million for the declining enrollment at the Red Lake high school, middle school and two elementary schools, the bonding bill that would bring to $80 million the bricks-and-mortar spending by state taxpayers for the four schools.

$2.5 million to create a state crime lab in Andover, although there is room two expand the state’s two crime labs in St. Paul and Bemidji.

$300,000 to buy a swamp (or, as the tree huggers prefer to call it, a "wet land") next to an elementary school in Brooklyn Center.

$30 million for a third ice rink at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (“DECC”).

Over $71 million of new projects for the University and for MnSCU

$20 million for “infrastructure” for Itasca County that was never heard by the economic development committee.
In addition to the wasteful and largely unnecessary spending, the current bonding bill sets some bad precedents. It would continue a three-year trend toward bloated bonding bills every year, it sets the table for a record-smashing bonding bill next year as many proposals being heard in 2007 become with promises made for 2008. It also builds the hidden debt for budgets in future years that will need cash infusions to service long-term debts and sets a record for putting current General Fund revenues into bonding projects that are supposed to be paid for over a long time because they serve the public over a long time.

In their zeal to increase spending the DFL controlled committees forced many elements of the bonding bill through without meaningful review by the committees that supposedly have expertise on the matter. For example, the Higher Education Committee did not hear about what emergency was calling for huge new funds for the University of Minnesota or MnSCU institutions. The Environment Finance Committee did not get to evaluate huge DNR projects. In the Bonding Committee itself, most multi-million projects were considered for less than five minutes, with few or no questions allowed by the open-minded DFL leadership.

The DFL is clearly setting the stage to blackmail the Governor into signing pork-infested legislation. For example, the funding of immediate infrastructure repairs to flood ravaged Browns Valley will be held hostage by the DFL who want to force the Governor to sign a pork-laden, all-or-nothing package deal. Local officials from the water-torn community urgently pleaded with DFL to pass their local relief bill quickly and separately, as has been done for past victims of natural disasters.

Those highly ethical folks in the DFL were also very careful in the structuring of the bonding bill to pay off their supporters and punish non-supporters at the expense of all taxpayers. Although the 49 House Republicans represent 37 percent of the state’s citizens, bonding projects in their districts accounted for less than 2 percent of the bill (under $5 million) while projects in the districts of 29 freshman DFLers exceeded $58 million. The DFL majority is clearly bringing home the bacon by grabbing the pork with both hands.

There is, however, a hopeful sign that the Republicans are starting to dig in and make a stand against the DFL spending hegemony as in the case of both the Transportation and Bonding bills they succeeded in holding the approval vote total below the 90 needed by the DFL to override vetos by Governor Pawlenty. This will give the Governor the leverage he needs to quash the DFL pork fest, assuming he has the good sense and political backbone to invoke it.

The Republicans also attempted to limit the carnage to the taxpayers in the bonding bill through the amendment process, but the heavy hand of the DFL slapped the efforts down:
Representative Tom Emmer (R-Delano) asked the House to cut the $290 million bonding bill down to $8 million. About $2 million of flood aid would have gone to Browns Valley. About $6 million would have gone to emergency repairs and security updates at the prison in Oak Park Heights. The Emmer Amendment failed by a margin of 39-90.

Representative Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover) offered an amendment that would have cut most of the fat out of the bill, and would have shifted some of the savings for construction or repair of existing state roads, with other funds going to counties for expansion or repairs of county roads. The DeLaForest Amendment failed by a margin of 37-92.

Representative Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) offered an amendment to help communities with storm damage for last year, instead of extending the state’s trail system as the DNR and other agencies can't even keep up with maintenance of the current system. Peppin said she had offered a bill to propose similar action, but the DFL leadership would not give it a hearing. The Peppin Amendment failed by a margin of 34-95.

Seeking “a balance that reflects the real life choices made by Minnesota commuters,” Representative Steve Sviggum (R-Kenyon) offered an amendment to place more of the bill’s investments on cars than empty buses, trolleys, and commuter trains. The Sviggum Amendment failed by a 42-87 margin.
If you're keeping score it's interesting to note that between the five votes taken on Tuesday night, House DFLers voted against the taxpayers and fiscal responsibility by a 414-1 margin (Representative Marsha Swails (D-Woodbury) voted for the Peppin Amendment).

I certainly hope those of you who stayed at home or voted DFL to teach the Republicans are OK with the price tag on this lesson. But, after all, liberals have always warned us that education is expensive. Hopefully the electorate will have also learned this costly lesson when the next election comes around.


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