State Legislature moves to Planet Bizarro

Tom West, West Words

Tom West, West Words

About a month before any session of the Minnesota Legislature ends, things get a bit dicey. Time is running short, trial balloons have been popped and 201 personal agendas have to be boiled down into a dozen or so important laws and about 50 others not so important.

But this year’s Legislature has moved to Planet Bizarro.

The House of Representatives, for example, wants to give the state’s public schools an additional $550 million — but no longer hold them accountable for teaching students anything. Trust us, they said, statewide testing is a waste of time and money.

Meanwhile, the Senate, also controlled by the DFL Party which ran on the promise to raise taxes on the top 2 percent of income earners in the state, now wants to renege on that, dipping down to people making as little as $70,000 so they can increase spending more than 7 percent. I’ll bet all you people living in the middle class didn’t realize that you were the “top 2 percent” they were talking about last fall.

Not only that, the Senate also wants to broaden the sales tax to include clothing. Who knew last fall that only the top 2 percent of Minnesotans wear clothes?

Global warming needs to be taken seriously — as we’ve all learned in the past month — so shed those togs.

To be fair, the clothing tax proposal comes with a rebate for low-income folks, sort of like an earned-income tax credit would work. But wait. An earned-income tax credit is unacceptable when the alternative is to increase the minimum wage by almost 50 percent, as some DFLers have proposed.

In fact, things got so weird that the minority Republicans —yes, the Republicans — found themselves begging the DFL to give nursing home workers their first pay hike in five years. That had to have been the GOP’s first initiative to expand social service funding in a generation.

Last fall, every candidate with a pulse, regardless of party affiliation, said that creating new jobs was one of the state’s top priorities.

Now that the Legislature is in session, how are they doing on the job front?

The two biggest private-sector initiatives brought before the Legislature so far are the Vikings stadium re-funding and the Mayo Clinic expansion?

The reaction so far?

In the case of the Vikings, some lawmakers want to change one of the fundamental concepts on which the American economy is built — the sanctity of contracts. The Vikings got too good of a deal, they say now that the revenue from electronic pull tabs has been revealed as a mirage. On Planet Bizarro, they say let’s go back, after millions have already been spent, and dip into Viking owner Zigi Wilf’s pockets a little deeper.

It’s not all bad. On the jobs front, that idea could keep a number of lawyers employed for years to come.

It’s also a wonderful message to send to prospective businesses looking to expand in Bizarroland: Our word’s no good; work with us at your own peril..

And that brings up the Mayo Clinic. The House Tax Chair Ann Lenczewski, upon hearing of Mayo’s expansion plans for the first time, apparently thought everyone was talking about an open jar of mayo (lower case) left open on the counter during a summer vacation. Her response was the equivalent of, “Euwww.”

On Planet Bizarro, the prevailing attitude is why would we want all those sick people bringing germs and disease to our state?

As for jobs, not just any will do. If they don’t get paid with a government paycheck, Planet Bizarro doesn’t need any more. So how’s that working?

Since Gov. Dayton took office in 2010, jobs have become an increasingly scarce commodity in Minnesota. Today, 1.95 percent of the jobs in the U.S. are in Minnesota. The last time 1.94 percent or fewer of American jobs were in Minnesota was June 2009.

In March, the state jobless rate was 5.8 percent, which compares favorably to the federal jobless rate of 7.6 percent. However, the trends suggest that things aren’t as rosy as they appear on Planet Bizarro. The last time the state rate was that close to the federal rate was in March 2010, three months after Dayton took office.

Here in Central Minnesota, the job situation is somewhat bleaker. Since January 2010, only 1,985 jobs have been added. If one measures the number of jobs in the 12-county area (Benton, Cass, Crow Wing, Douglas, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pope, Stearns, Todd and Wright) from March 2010 through March 2013, the area actually lost 615 jobs.

On Planet Bizarro, the lawmakers say they want a world-class work force. That’s one reason they are helping to pay so many administrators at the University of Minnesota more than $200,000. In Bizarroland, we want a workforce with longevity, and if the students go deep in debt to get a diploma, that will insure that they have to keep working. What other rationale could there be?

Maybe the adults will soon take control of the room and move the Legislature back to St. Paul and sanity. Maybe. But time is running short.

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Congratulations are in order to Little Falls native Ben Hanowski, now of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, after signing a contract that made all those hours spent on the family’s backyard rink worthwhile..

Pro athletes are few and far between in these parts, so good luck — but could you go easy on the Wild?

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at tom.west@mcrecord.com.

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