Update: Dedicated funds

Joe
Albert

Associate Editor

Free theater. I’m not much for plays, but it
certainly was entertaining to watch the theater – in spite of the
fact the outcome was as

orchestrated as as the end of a professional wrestling match –
that was the Senate Taxes Committee hearing on Wednesday
morning.

Before us was the same group of legislators who two weeks prior
shot down Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller’s bill to
dedicate a tax increase of 3/8 of one percent to habitat, clean
water, parks and trails, and the arts.

After its initial failure, Pogemiller was promised the bill
would return to the committee once he had the votes necessary to
pass it. As we sat down to hear the committee take the bill up
again, a passing vote was nearly assured, otherwise we wouldn’t be
sitting here. The real question: What had happened that resulted in
all those senators switching their votes.

Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbook, who initially voted against the bill,
spoke first, saying ‘we all know this is important to Minnesota,’
and that further discussion would ‘enlighten us’ and improve the
bill.

Next was Julianne Ortman. The Chanhassen Republican spoke of the
precedent that would be set if, among other things, a bill was
heard that had already failed in that committee. Plus, she noted,
the committee deadline had already come and gone. Not so fast, said
Skoe, reminding Ortman there are no deadlines for the powerful
Taxes Committee.

Then John Marty, DFL-Roseville, chimed in. This – you could feel
it – was the moment. He proposed dedicating the money in statute,
rather than in the constitution.

After others spoke up, Ortman talked again, opposing Marty’s
amendment on the basis that it would be a tax increase that future
lawmakers could do with what they please. She called it ‘only a
hope’ the money could continue to be spent on those things for
which it would be written into law.

When she broached the point a second time, Chair Tom Bakk,
DFL-Cook, admonished her, saying: ‘Senator Ortman, do not
underestimate the power of base-level-budgeting.’

Meantime, Marty, who voted against the original bill, took to
the soapbox, talked about ‘bipartisan calls to support natural
resources,’ then challenged legislators to speak up if they don’t
support natural resources. ‘All we have to do is put our money
where our mouth is,’ Marty said.

Shortly thereafter, the committee voted to pass what sportsmen
hoped would be a short-lived version of the dedicated funding bill.
Indeed, hours later, the bill was changed back to a constitutional
dedication and sent to the floor.

Bottom line: The move to a statutory dedication was nothing more
than political maneuvering and a pre-hearing, behind-closed-doors
agreement meant solely to move the bill out of an unfriendly
committee. What we saw before us: A thinly veiled attempt at
drama.

The real drama will happen when the bill’s heard on the Senate
floor,

possibly as early as Friday. It will take 34 votes to pass it,
and that number of ayes isn’t assured, as evidenced by the small
list of lawmakers sportsmen were told they needed to talk to.

A House committee passed a version of the bill yesterday, and it
has a hearing scheduled in the Finance Committee on Friday.
Rumblings are the bill could be to the House floor by the middle of
next week, which means there could be a conference committee formed
later next week if all goes well.

After Wednesday’s flurry of dedicated funding activity,
supporters were rightly buzzing with optimism Thursday morning. But
we’ve been here before. My thought: Neither passage nor failure
should be a surprise.

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