Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pass a Clean Bi-partisan Lights on Bill Now

On Tuesday, July 12, 2011, I had the privilege of appearing on the dais with Governor Dayton for a discussion of education finance and the budget deadlock.   The audience was mostly friendly to Dayton, but everyone also urged Governor and the legislators present to get government working again.    It would be fabulous if the House, Senate and Governor could come together and break the deadlock immediately.  But frankly, listening to both sides on Tuesday, it sounds like we have a long long way to go.

For this reason, I say, lets get government working again with a clean bi-partisan lights-on bill.    Not a Republican version of a lights-on bill. Not a Democratic version of a lights-on bill. But one that is fair to both sides and above all, fair to all Minnesotans.

Republicans have been pressing for a lights-on bill, of course, but what they have in mind is a bill that they craft to provide only the taxes and spending that they favor.  Democrats naturally fear that their purpose is not bipartisan.  Democrats believe that Republicans want the Governor to approve a lights on bill that spends exactly what Republicans want-- and taxes exactly what Republicans want to tax, and approves the revenue only that Republicans want to approve.  Once a lights-on-bill is passed, the Republicans could stop negotiating and essentially turn the lights on bill into permanent legislation.  Neither party should have to support a lights-on bill that's a ruse.  

The lights on bill I'm calling for would be a true bipartisan lights on bill.    It would have the following elements:
  • Starting next Monday, spending and taxation would occur at a compromise level, half way between Dayton's position and the legislative position, until the light's on bill terminates.  
  • That would mean that on a temporary basis there would be a temporary 1 percent tax on millionaires, half of Dayton's demand, only for the duration of the lights on bill.   This would mean that if the lights on bill lasted one month, millionaires would be taxed 1/12 of one percent, because the tax would be in effect for only 1/12 of a year.  The Governor would get half of what he wants, but only for 1/12 of a year. 
  • As part of the permanent agreement, the Republicans would be free to insist that the temporary millionaire tax would be rebated.   Indeed, any of the temporary spending and taxing could be altered in a final deal.They could support the lights on bill, knowing that the permanent bill could repair what they don't want to agree to permanently.
  • Finally, to provide an incentive to honest negotiation, either party could unilaterally terminate the operation of the temporary light's on bill.   
This lights on bill could put Minnesota government back in operation on Friday this week without requiring either party to capitulate.  The clean Bi-Partisan lights-on bill involves minor concessions by each side, but neither side is forced to capitulate.  And the agreement is only temporary.   The bi-partisan lights on bill would restore child care for Minnesota low income workers.  It would immediately start up construction projects and, yes, even get horse racing going again.   The beauty of the bi-partisan lights on bill is that both parties can agree to it without capitulating to the other.

Now I believe that a bi-partisan lights-on bill has to have increased revenues and it has to provide some cost controls, because there is no question that Minnesota has a massive structural deficit that is cost by spending more than we must, and taxing less than we must.   Mainline real republicans and and mainline real democrats, the experts in both parties know this.     (See my blogpost from  December 2009).  The two great bipartisan budget commissions, 2009 and 2005, both warned that Minnesota will be facing a huge financial crisis, because our taxation was reduced below a sustainable level and because our spending-- especially health care spending has been maintained at an unsustainably high level.

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