Underwhelming session ends

While the Legislature completed its work on time, the result leaves much to be desired.

Last November, the new DFL majority and Gov. Tim Pawlenty started setting goals that seemed almost too good to be true. Universal health care for children, property tax relief for homeowners and a long awaited respite from skyrocketing tuition costs were all going to receive attention. But the goals we heard about were too good to be true, as evidenced by the budget sent to Gov. Pawlenty just before the stroke of midnight on Monday.

First, the (few) victories: The budget calls for $361 million in higher-education funding, aimed at easing the tuition increases students at Minnesota state colleges and universities have faced for over a decade. That’s a good start, but with many people already effectively priced out of higher education, we need to do something about the overall cost of tuition, not just the increases. The state set a renewable energy standard we can be proud of, calling for 25 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable resources by 2020. $300 million was added for special education funding and schools will receive a slight increase per student.

Now the bad news: The Legislature failed to override Pawlenty’s veto of the 5 cent gasoline tax to pay for transit projects. This will have to wait until next session, along with property tax relief and the dedicated-funding constitutional amendment for conservation and the arts. All-day kindergarten funding was given only a pittance of what was necessary to make it a reality.

The biggest failure, however, was the inability to restore tax fairness in the state. People making over $350,000 per year pay 9.3 percent of their income in taxes, and that percentage is decreasing, while the middle and lower classes pay roughly 12 percent of their income, and their rate is on the rise. For this, Gov. Pawlenty shoulders the blame. The DFL tax bill he vetoed would have brought taxes paid by the wealthiest Minnesotans closer to what everyone else pays. The veto was the silver bullet for funding many of the goals we heard so much about before the session began.

This year represented an opportunity to move the state forward, out of the mud it has been spinning its wheels in for the past four years. If the cost of moving forward means paying more in taxes, it seems Gov. Pawlenty is determined to keep us in that mud.