- Associated Press - Monday, April 9, 2018

St. Cloud Times, April 7

Legislature is pushing the clock on timely, transparent policy debates

While there is not a two-year, $45-billion-plus budget to craft this year, the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton do have three major issues to resolve by the time the regular session ends May 21.

They are tax reform, a bonding bill and what to do with a projected $300 million surplus.

It’s time for legislators to craft proposed solutions over the next seven weeks in ways that all Minnesotans can follow.

In short, legislators need to do their job in a timely and transparent manner.

When they return to work Monday, the first step in accomplishing that seemingly simple objective is for Republican legislative leaders to put forth their specific proposals regarding tax reform, a bonding bill and how to use the surplus.

Why? Because the DFL governor has done just that in the weeks since the session opened Feb. 20.

Now it’s time for Republicans to share their proposals with their bosses: the citizens of Minnesota.

Only after they do that can reasoned, civil and public discussion ensue - ideally not just in the halls of the Capitol, but all across Minnesota as residents follow along and even share their views with legislators.

That’s how the system is supposed to work. Yet as recent history shows, that’s not been the case. Too many recent sessions have seen specific proposals withheld until near the end of the session.

Worse yet, lacking time and robust (if any) input from peers, a handful of legislative leaders and the governor then have retreated behind closed doors, setting the terms in secret for bills that the Legislature is then asked (read: forced) to pass without thorough review, much less public debate.

Such brinksmanship needs to stop.

Look no further than the tax reform needed in the wake of federal tax changes.

Experts of all political stripes are stressing that Minnesota must make tax code changes or face some expensive bills at the end of 2018.

Dayton and DFLers are touting a priority to help to middle-class families. Powerful players like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce want aid for businesses.

So what are Republican House and Senate leaders going to champion?

House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka need to let the public know as soon as possible. Then they need to move ideas through the legislative process with transparency.

The same goes for a bonding bill. Likewise with a plan for the surplus.

To their credit, legislators and Dayton already have addressed issues like legislative funding and the state’s licensing system, proving they can tackle tough issues in a timely and transparent manner.

Keep that trend going - and ditch the despicable end-of-session, late-night secret deals of late. It really should not be that hard. Be timely, be transparent and get these issues solved by May 21.


Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 4

Minnesota Legislature shouldn’t end ranked-choice voting

Ranked-choice voting’s potency as a political reform tool is getting perverse affirmation at the Legislature this session. Legislators loyal to the status quo are behind a move to end RCV in St. Paul and Minneapolis, the only Minnesota cities that use the vote-by-ranking system, and to ban its adoption elsewhere.

A bill that would pre-empt local ranked-choice voting won the approval of a state Senate panel on a party-line vote last week, with Republicans favoring the ban and DFLers opposed. But opposition to the still-new voting method can be found among inside players in both parties. The opponents evidently don’t like what this Editorial Board has seen for some time: RCV has the potential to shift political power away from partisan zealots and aid the formation of centrist consensus.

That potential apparently appealed to the voters in Minneapolis in 2006 and St. Paul in 2009. They also responded positively to the notion of eliminating costly, low-turnout primaries in city elections. RCV charter amendments won approval in the state’s largest cities by strong majorities. The voting method is now getting a serious look in St. Louis Park, Rochester and Red Wing, as well.

But RCV is also encountering increasingly intense resistance. In Duluth in 2015, it was labor’s opposition that helped defeat an RCV charter amendment. In the state of Maine, where voters in 2016 approved RCV for state elections, legislators’ attempts to thwart the will of the voters has landed the matter in court. At the Minnesota Legislature this year, RCV’s most potent foe appears to be Republican state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a former Minnesota secretary of state and a longtime GOP insider who heads the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

RCV’s detractors may have trouble seeing this bill into the statute books this year, particularly if the Legislature’s votes for the measure continue to come only from Republicans. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has long held that he will not sign election-law changes unless they come to his desk with bipartisan backing. But Dayton won’t be in office in 2019. Kiffmeyer and the other RCV opponents in the state Senate will be. Their terms don’t end until January 2021.

That means that this year’s anti-RCV push may serve as a warning to those who would be loath to see the local RCV experiments end by legislative fiat. Minnesotans should seek to know the RCV views of this year’s candidates for governor and the state House and weigh those views as they cast their votes.

RCV does a better job of producing a majority winner in multiple-candidate elections than does today’s plurality-wins system. Yet it’s friendlier than the status quo to third-party candidacies because it eases voters’ fears that a vote for a third-party candidate will inadvertently lead to the election of the voter’s least-preferred choice. RCV creates an incentive for candidates to build broad bases of support and a disincentive for harsh attacks on one’s opponents. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, it has proved to be popular and - despite critics’ claims to the contrary - well understood by voters.

For those good reasons plus one more - the value of preserving local control over local elections - we hope the anti-RCV effort in this year’s Legislature falters. And that Minnesotans who like what they’ve seen from RCV to date and are eager to see more will convey their thinking to this year’s candidates for state office.


St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 8

Another step toward the reconnection of Rondo

The remarkable vision to reconnect Rondo - the African-American neighborhood that was undone decades ago by I-94 construction in St. Paul - has received welcome new affirmation.

After a recent week of intensive study, a team of experts from the Urban Land Institute concluded that a significant Rondo community “land bridge” should move forward.

Such a highway “lid” - like those in place in Seattle and Dallas - would “re-weave” the neighborhood where families and businesses were uprooted in the 1960s. It would cover the interstate for a stretch that could include housing and commercial developments, as well as green space.

The recommendations mention a Phase One bridge centered on Victoria Street and running from 300 feet west of Chatsworth Street to 150 feet east of Grotto Street.

They also outline tasks to be accomplished in the next 12 to 24 months. “It’s like giving us a map to the future,” explains Marvin Roger Anderson, executive director of the nonprofit ReConnect Rondo. Recommendations are posted at reconnectrondo.org .

The land-bridge vision is years away and costs are to be determined. “It’s a big project. It’s a Hoover Dam project,” Anderson told us. “It’s a project that requires people, industry and government to think big to solve a problem.”

It further represents “what good government is all about,” said Anderson, a former state law librarian who also is co-founder of the nonprofit Rondo Avenue Inc., with efforts that include the annual Rondo Days celebration.

When you bring together the philanthropic community, private industry and government, “there is very little we can’t achieve in St. Paul,” he said.

Recommendations note that the state’s Department of Transportation should construct and maintain the bridge. They also suggest that ReConnect Rondo - in close partnership with MnDOT - should secure $6 million in pre-development seed money to be used over the next year or two to “bring the idea to the next step of design, engineering and cost estimates.”

Recommendations also emphasize that planning and advocacy for the effort are an opportunity for leadership and ownership by St. Paul’s African American community. They warn about gentrification and displacement: “Both can happen; the key is to put tools and program in place to mitigate their effect without halting progress that will create wealth, jobs and opportunities for home ownership among residents and growth for local business.”

Details include description of “a vibrant mixed-use center,” with anchor institutions that might include a higher-education branch facility, a health care incubator/innovation center or training centers.

We’ve noted increasing recognition in recent years of the wrong done by government in bulldozing certain communities - often African-American - to build roads. New efforts to begin to put it right include apologies from city and state leaders, with MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle committing “to a new era where we do put people ahead of highways and community ahead of cars.”

In our most recent conversation, Anderson marveled at the group brought together for the week of events during the Urban Land Institute visit. “We have representatives from governmental agencies that in the past may never have listened to or heard a word we said.” He also noted the national panel of architects and economic development experts, as well as representatives of nonprofits and community organizations and “just plain folk.”

Bringing them together “is a tremendous achievement,” he told us. Indeed it is.

We’ve been intrigued about the land-bridge - using infrastructure and ambition to re-connect and re-create a neighborhood it divided - since Anderson first elaborated on the concept in a meeting with the editorial board a couple of years ago.

He muses that dreams begin with “the spark of an idea” and that “the longest journey starts with one step.”

Steps in the direction of job creation - with the wealth-building potential locally owned businesses bring for stable families and communities - make this promising concept even more appealing.

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