Compared to the GOP-backed Marriage Ban Amendment, Voter Red Tape Amendment and Right-to-Leech Amendment, you hear much less in the news about the proposed the state constitutional amendment to restrict legislators’ future budget choices. This amendment would require a 60% legislative “super majority” approval for tax increases, limit general fund spending to 98% of forecasted income, and ban the use of budget surpluses for “non-emergency” purposes.
Compared to the Vikings stadium and the other hot button amendments, this issue is relatively wonky and boring. It doesn’t rally interest groups the way the other amendments do.
But it’s very impactful, so it deserves more news attention and scrutiny than it is getting. The problem with this issue flying below-the-radar is that it can sound reasonable at first blush, until you understand the intent and implications of the change. Minnesota needs to make this major decision with its eyes wide open.
For over 150 years, Minnesota’s representative democracy has constructed a very successful society using majority rule to govern fiscal policy. With majority rule, we built a prosperous economy, a great public school system, a solid infrastructure and a society that regularly places at or near the top of state quality-of-life rankings.
In other words, majority rule has ruled well.
But under the latest in a long series of conservative constitutional concoctions, we would scrap the historically successful majority rule approach, and make it much more difficult for future Minnesota Legislatures to reach fiscal compromises. The Supegridlock Amendment would make it “super” likely that future fiscal crises are addressed with a “cuts only” approach, since cuts only need the support of 50% of the Legislature, while tax increases would need a “super majority” of 60% of the Legislature. As we all know, it’s nearly impossible to get 60% of the Legislature to agree on something as non-controversial as designating a State Insect, much less a tax reform package.
This makes no sense. Dumping constitutional gravel into the already rusted and crumbling gears of Minnesota’s legislative machinery will make future gridlock and government shutdowns much more likely.
“Cuts only” and “shutdowns” are not unintended consequences of this approach. They are precisely what Republicans are hoping to achieve. The aim of the amendment is to create gridlock on all things related to taxation, and consequently force even deeper cuts hurting seniors, kids, veterans, commuters, sick people, crime victims, poor people, tne environment, small businesses, students, and middle class families.
Every legislative body has to do a taxation v. spending balancing act, and Republicans are attempting to put an iron thumb on the “cuts only” side of the scale, to make balance almost impossible.
And remember, an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans don’t want the “cuts only” approach Republicans keep trying to force feed them. By almost a 3-to-1 margin, a July 2011 MinnPost poll found that Minnesotans preferred a balanced approach to budgeting. That poll found that 66% prefer the balanced approach with tax increases in the mix, while only 23% prefer a cuts only approach.
It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could seriously believe that the remedy for our hopelessly dysfunctional 2011-12 Minnesota Legislature is even an more gridlock-inducing set of rules. But that is precisely what the authors of this amendment are pushing. Legislative reporters understand this better than just about anyone. They cover the process every day, and they just lived through Minnesota’s state government shutdown.
So why the relative silence?
Note: Gear art by McMullin Creative.