The following commentary by House Minority Leader Paul Thissen appeared in the May 23, 2015 StarTribune:
From oil trains to kids, it’s no laughing matter.
With a healthy budget surplus thanks to a growing economy, the 2015 legislative session began with great opportunity to keep Minnesota moving forward. Unfortunately, the session ended in chaotic fashion this past Monday and with few accomplishments.
With David Letterman having read his final top 10 list this week, I thought I would share the (not-so-funny) top 10 failures of the 2015 legislative session:
10. Failed to finish the work on time
Given a $2 billion budget surplus, most believed that the Legislature would be able to work with Gov. Mark Dayton and finish on time. Unfortunately, the Republican majority chose to send us into a special session over their unwillingness to compromise with the governor on his top priority: investments in our youngest learners.
9. Failed to adequately invest in long-term care workers
GOP: Education veto overshadows successes of 2015 Legislature
The Legislature did increase funding for nursing homes this session. However, the insistence by House Republicans on cutting health and human
services spending in a time of surplus meant that no money was included for home and community-based caregivers who care for the elderly and disabled.
8. Failed to get “dark money” out of politics
The previous election saw millions of dollars in secretive spending by corporate special-interest groups on endless mailings and TV and radio ads in targeted legislative districts. House Republicans repeatedly blocked DFL efforts to increase disclosure of this spending so voters know who is trying to influence their vote. Why?
7. Failed to support hardworking Minnesotans
On top of trying to cut the minimum wage for tens of thousands of Minnesotans, Republicans blocked progress on the Working Parents Act this session. The act would have ensured that working Minnesotans have access to paid family leave and earned sick time, improving the work-life balance for Minnesota families.
6. Failed to make college more affordable for students
Even though Gov. Dayton and a DFL Legislature managed to freeze tuition for all students at public universities in 2013 while facing a $627 million budget deficit, House Republicans drastically shortchanged Minnesota college students and their families in a time of surplus, guaranteeing tuitions will rise for thousands of students around the state.
5. Failed to improve family budgets
Despite their rhetoric about putting family budgets ahead of government budgets, House Republicans passed a tax bill that included billions in permanent tax giveaways to the richest Minnesotans and businesses but small, temporary relief to average Minnesotans. Democrats couldn’t support those misplaced priorities and, ultimately, the only tax provision that passed was a $30 million tax increase tucked into the education omnibus bill in the middle of the night.
4. Failed to pass a comprehensive transportation package
Even though this was supposed to be the “transportation session” — with all parties agreeing on the need for billions of new dollars to fix our roads and bridges and statewide transit system, the House Republicans’ failure to compromise on a package yielded a “lights on” status-quo bill. How many roads and bridges can we repair by doing nothing?
3. Failed to address oil train safety
In just the last year, we have seen several oil train derailments that caused serious public safety risks along oil train routes that go straight through Minnesota. Democrats brought forward legislation that would ask the railroad companies — who are experiencing record profits — to pitch in for safety improvements, but Republicans blocked those efforts.
2. Failed Greater Minnesota
During the last election, Republicans said they would focus on Greater Minnesota, but this turned out to be another case of politicians saying one thing and doing another. Their aforementioned failures to compromise on taxes, transportation and rail safety — while shortchanging education and economic development — hurt Greater Minnesota the most.
1. Failed to invest in our kids
Unbelievably, House Republicans forced a special session over their stark opposition to optional prekindergarten for Minnesota 4-year-olds. When a family has extra money, they invest in their kids’ future. With a $2 billion surplus we should do the same, and not only adequately fund our schools, but also ensure that all of Minnesota’s youngest learners have the same opportunity to get ahead.
This top 10 list won’t get any laughs from Minnesotans who rightly expected more from this new Republican majority in the Minnesota House. But if there is any silver lining in the failure of the 2015 session, it’s that we now have an opportunity to hit the reset button.
During the session, House Democrats brought forward alternative ideas to move ahead on education and the other big challenges our state faces, but those ideas were ignored by the Republican majority. In a special session, House Democrats again stand ready to work together with the governor, as well as Republican legislators, on the bold, common-sense agenda for our future that Minnesotans expect and deserve.
Just because very little was accomplished in the regular session doesn’t mean that very little has to be accomplished in a special session.