Phil Krinkie, St. Paul, column: Nothing special about a 'special session'

By Phil Krinkie ST. PAUL -- As the regular 2011 Legislative session reaches its constitutional mandated adjournment, the feelings of excitement and hope that started the session in January are being replaced with an overwhelming sense of d?ja vu....

By Phil Krinkie

ST. PAUL -- As the regular 2011 Legislative session reaches its constitutional mandated adjournment, the feelings of excitement and hope that started the session in January are being replaced with an overwhelming sense of déja vu.

This year at the State Capitol, it appears the session will have a similar outcome as in several recent budget battles: the need for the governor to call the Legislature back to complete the budget in a "special session." But don't let the term fool you; six out of the past 10 years there have been "special sessions."

Why have "special sessions" become the norm rather than the exception? If you took a stroll through the Capitol halls today you would notice that there is something missing besides a balanced state budget: There is no sense of urgency.

The constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn by the third week in May; after all, we are supposed to have a part-time Legislature.


Back in the 1850s when the document was drafted that imposed the adjournment deadline, farmers had to get back home to plant the crops. Today, many of the legislators have no full-time employment, so sitting around the marble kingdom has become their main occupation.

Therefore, the impulse to pass a budget and conclude the business of the state seems to drag on endlessly.

In addition to the lack of urgency, there has been a growing trend toward brinksmanship -- each side waiting or delaying as the clock keeps ticking; like a game of chicken, waiting to see who blinks first.

In the "special session," the stakes get higher as June 30 approaches because it is the end of the budget year, and the government shutdown talk escalates.

A "special session" can be just like overtime in the big leagues: It can end quickly, or it can drag on forever.

If there is not a prescribed plan for a budget deal, it can be nothing but tedious days and weeks of negotiations behind closed doors. The negotiations can turn into a waiting game, leaving the taxpayers like an expectant father camped outside the hospital room, waiting for the results of that difficult and painful process of childbirth.

An example of that would be the longest "special session" in Minnesota history in 1971. It began in May and didn't conclude until October.

For months, most Capitol observers have predicted a deadlock over this year's budget process. Despite the rhetoric about finishing on time and the platitudes regarding working together, few really expected a budget agreement by the end of session.


But that's where this year's predictions have ended. Few if any will go out on a limb and predict how and when this budget battle will conclude.

The battle line in this year's budget debate centers on taxes. With a projected increase in revenue of $3 billion, the Republican-controlled Legislature believes there is no need to raise taxes. The governor, on the other hand, has proposed an income tax increase on the top 5 percent. The result is a standoff that already has covered five months.

Looking back, the last "special session" battle over a tax increase was in 2005. The DFL- controlled Senate wanted to impose a tax increase on top income earners to fix a $400 million budget deficit. Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposed this idea, and the deadlock led to a seven-week special session and the state's first partial government shutdown.

That "special session" ended without an income tax increase.

This year, the stage is set for a similar budget debate in a "special session."

Gov. Mark Dayton is demanding an increase in taxes on the state's top income earners, but the Republican-controlled House and Senate are holding fast to the pledge that "State government must live within its means."

Squaring off in the battle over a tax increase is a Democratic governor who approaches the need to raise taxes not as a fiscal issue but a moral issue. Dayton stated in a recent newspaper article that balancing the budget without a tax increase "would mean giving up everything I believe is right for Minnesota."

The clock is ticking, and with the prospect of government shutdown looming its likely that legislators and the governor will come to a budget agreement before July.


Dayton will hold out most of June, but in the end, he will forgo his tax increase in order to prevent public employees missing a paycheck. Not exactly high drama, just another not so "special" special session.

Krinkie, a former eight-term Republican state representative from Lino Lakes, Minn., is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.

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