Being right isn't the same as doing right.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum is correct in his interpretation of the Minnesota Constitution when he said Gov. Jesse Ventura can call them into a special summer session but that he can't force them to stay at the Capitol. The Legislature is only mandated to produce a balanced budget in the current budget period even though serious deficits are also projected for 2004-2005.
But if the Legislature continues to blithely ignore the looming budget shortfalls of the next biennium it should be called back into session, if only for a dressing-down from the governor for shamefully abdicating their responsibilities.
The short-sighted budget solution Democrats and Republicans came up with for 2002-2003 was best described by former Gov. Arne Carlson, who termed it a "re-election bill" rather than a good budget package. It allows legislators to tell voters they didn't raise taxes and made only minimal cuts in services. All 201 legislators are up for re-election this year and three of them are running for governor.
Ventura was right when he insisted the Legislature fix the deficit for the next biennium as well as this one. The longer the job is put off the deeper the cuts will have to be.
The Legislature's solution places state reserves dangerously low and threatens Minnesota's AAA credit rating. Loss of the credit rating will make borrowing money more expensive for Minnesota. The last time Minnesota lost the coveted AAA credit rating it took more than a decade to regain it.
State politicians of all stripes were quick to take bows when the rebates were being handed out. This year, when the responsible economic solution is probably a combination of raising taxes and cutting state spending, everybody's heading for cover.
Given the political realities of 2002 it's clear lawmakers are going to put off the dirty work of grappling with the 2004-2005 deficit until after voters go to the polls.
It's sad but true that in a campaign era of simplistic slogans and sound bites precious few lawmakers are skillful enough to explain to voters that tax hikes and program cutting now would probably save Minnesotans money in the long run. Most likely, we'll have to learn the hard way.
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