Editorial: Special bonding session is not a good idea

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

It’s not surprising that Democrats are wary of a proposal to call lawmakers in for a quick special session to authorize certain agreed-upon bonding projects, and then take up financing other, more contentious, bonding proposals after they convene in January in regular session.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed calling a brief special session in December to fund certain projects both Republicans and Democrats can agree on in advance. He suggests about $430 million in &uot;consensus&uot; projects on grounds that construction costs are rising at a higher rate than in past years. To approve projects popular with both parties now would give them a jump-start and save the state money, the Republican administration contends.

Sounds good, at first blush.

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But the loyal opposition, with Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson as its spokesman, has concerns. Johnson says he fears that if a scaled-down bill were to pass now, another bonding bill would not even be taken up in the regular session, or in 2006.

Senate Democrats proposed an $890 million bonding package earlier this year, one deemed too costly by Republicans. The result was no bonding bill at all, leaving many worthy projects &045; including several in northern Minnesota &045; high and dry.

How to proceed?

With a recent record of divisiveness between the two parties, Johnson has a right to be concerned that Republicans might block additional bonding during the regular session, if a &uot;consensus&uot; bill were to be enacted now in special session. Certain no-tax-increase pledges made by the governor and GOP lawmakers fortify that concern. Bonding isn’t taxing, but it can be contentious.

Furthermore, the makeup of the House of Representatives will change drastically in January, with the Senate and House retaining Democratic and Republican majorities respectively, but with a division in the House of just two seats. Republicans lost 13 House seats in the November election. The close split changes the complexion of the body, even if the majority remains. Besides, shouldn’t newly elected lawmakers be allowed to vote on such important matters?

Indeed they should. A special session in December would come just four or five weeks before the Legislature convenes in January.

Leaders of both parties should vow, instead, to take up the bonding package early in the regular session, rather than letting it sit until May.

Such discipline is unprecedented, but it could be done with strong leadership. And, if construction costs are rising as fast as the Pawlenty administration says they are, it should be done.

(Duluth News Tribune)