Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star-Tribune. May 20, 2022.

Editorial: Better dealmaking at the Capitol

Saving a chunk of surplus is prudent as the legislative session heads to the finish line.

An end-of-session deal that promises to make needed investments in Minnesota schools and health care while also cutting taxes has taken shape at the Capitol. In some respects, it is not unlike a bargain struck more than 20 years ago, when the House, Senate and then-Gov. Jesse Ventura brokered a three-way budget deal among Democrats, Republicans and an independent governor.

However, this latest dealmaking is marked by an uncommon dose of common sense and a bracing responsibility for the future.

The Ventura era was one marked by a series of significant budget surpluses. In 1999, after protracted negotiations, leaders finally agreed to divide the surplus into thirds so that each party could satisfy its priorities. DFLers used theirs to boost education spending; Republicans’ share went to permanent tax cuts, while the independent governor used his for rebate checks. Unfortunately, the combination of higher spending and reduced revenue left the state with bitter choices when the economy plunged into recession the following budget cycle.

Legislative leaders say they are determined not to make the same mistake. This year’s deal, the details of which are still being negotiated, would give the DFLers roughly $4 billion on increased spending. At the same time, Republicans would use a similar amount to reduce taxes. The key difference here? Another $4 billion would be saved as a hedge against future downturns.

Some extraordinary forces came together to produce such an eye-popping surplus projection. The key was a federal government that sent several checks to Americans coping with a crushing pandemic, more cash and loans to businesses forced to close for months, and wads of cash to states.

Some may think the amount set aside for the future is too great. We do not. It is needed both as a guard against inflation, already at a 40-year high, and, regrettably, the growing possibility of a recession. The two costliest items in the state’s budget are K-12 schools and health care. Neither is a place where emergency budget cuts would lead to anything good.

The broad framework agreed to by Gov. Tim Walz, GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman includes a roughly $1 billion increase in education, a $1 billion increase in health care, another $1.3 billion on areas to be agreed upon by the leaders, and $450 million for public safety. They also have agreed in principle to a $1.4 billion bonding bill.

The tax side is still being negotiated, but several prospects exist. Republicans favor an income tax rate cut that would be ongoing and aimed at the broadest number of taxpayers. They have also pushed for the elimination of taxes on Social Security income. Democrats would prefer to see at least some money go to renters’ credits, while Walz continues to push for rebate checks.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler told an editorial writer that while no one is getting everything they want, “The budget deal is responsible, unlike the one 20 years ago that created unrealistic spending and tax cut decisions that resulted in deficits in the future. We are not doing it that way. We are saving fully one-third of the surplus for the future. The tax cuts will be limited in size and scope but will impact people who can most benefit from them. Rate cuts at the lower level helps a little for everybody and a renter’s credit could help with the cost of housing.”

The framework is perhaps the most prudent one that could be achieved in a deeply divided Legislature. Schools and health care are two areas perhaps most stressed by the pandemic, and most affected by repercussions in the future.

Similarly, Republicans’ push for a lower tax rate earmarks at least a portion of the surplus for ongoing tax relief that would show up in Minnesotans’ paychecks week after week. It would be preferable to see slightly lower permanent tax relief, making room for slimmed-down rebate checks. The one-two punch of an immediate cash infusion this summer and ongoing tax relief in paychecks would be welcomed by many Minnesotans.

When this was written, House and Senate conferees on public safety remained unable to reach an agreement. This is too important to let fall to the next legislative session. There are needed and valid elements of change to be found in the Senate, House and governor’s proposals, including recruitment inducements for police, stricter penalties for carjacking, money for local governments to meet their individual law enforcement needs, and better oversight of law enforcement. Leaders should be ready to step in this weekend to ensure compromise is reached here as well.

As is too often the case, far too much has been left to the very last minute. Even with a signed agreement by leaders, it is possible that things could yet fall apart. Legislators and the governor have until midnight on Sunday to pass their budget. They should not waste another minute of the time remaining to do right by Minnesotans.

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St. Cloud Times. May 20, 2022.

Editorial: Want to see change in your community? Get on the ballot

Nearly everyone has an opinion when it comes to politics. So if you don’t like how your tax dollars are being spent or what’s happening in your public schools, you can do more than just post about it on social media.

One of the most basic and most important ways to shape the future of your community is by voting. Take it a step further and run to maximize your impact.

But how does your name get on the ballot?

The path to elected office begins by filing candidacy paperwork. Election season officially kicked off when filings for local offices started Tuesday. The filing period for most local offices is open until May 31.

In the St. Cloud area, nonpartisan elections will be held for city councils, school boards and county commissioner seats. Some counties will also have elections for county attorney, auditor-treasurer, sheriff and other positions. All of Minnesota’s Senate and state House of Representatives seats are up for election this year, as are statewide constitutional offices like governor, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor.

Candidates for most state and county offices file at the county auditor’s office. City candidates file with the city clerk, and school board candidates file with the school district clerk.

In St. Cloud, four city council seats are up for grabs. Sauk Rapids will have two city council seats on the ballot and both Sartell and Waite Park will elect a mayor and two city council members in November.

If city government isn’t your thing, St. Cloud Area School District 742 will elect three board members. And county commissioner seats are open in Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties. There are numerous township positions (elected at a different time) if none of those appeal.

As with every election, the St. Cloud Times will be following up with each local candidate, publishing stories about issues important to our area and bringing you election results.

The qualifications to run for most local offices are: You must be eligible to vote in Minnesota, be at least 21 years old at the time of assuming office, have lived in the district you are running in for at least 30 days before the general election, and have not filed for another office in the upcoming election.

So, what’s stopping you from getting involved and running for office?

You can learn more about how to register to vote, file for election and more at https://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/.

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Mankato Free Press. May 25, 2022.

Editorial: Election: Voting system is secure, accurate

As the votes for the May 24 special election in the 1st Congressional District are counted, voters can be assured that their vote will count, the total count will be hyper accurate and all systems will have been tested and retested.

Secretary of State Steve Simon traveled the state during Tuesday’s special primary election with a mission to tout the honest and accurate system that tallies Minnesota voting, dispelling the disinformation spread everywhere that the system is somehow rigged or subject to manipulation.

In a meeting with The Free Press Editorial Board, Simon pointed out little known checks of the system that should give voters confidence it is fair and accurate. The Secretary of State’s office doesn’t count votes, so it’s hard to allege malfeasance or call for Simon’s firing, as one GOP gubernatorial candidate has done.

“We never touch ballots,” Simon said, noting that is in the hands of local election officials.

And should one question the local officials, few realize election judges at every precinct must be an equal number affiliated with each party. The judges have to declare a party — the information is kept private — but local officials must ensure there are an equal number for each party. There are “red” judges in overly blue precincts and blue judges red districts.

And in the case of absentee ballots dropped off by vehicle, one judge from each declared party must together accept the ballot.

The public can view the counting of ballots and the testing of election counting machines, all of which must be tested within two weeks of any election. The “public accuracy test” is designed for the public to see how their vote counting equipment works.

And while testing ballot counting machines, election officials try to “trick it” by submitting mismarked ballots or feeding it in wrong. The public can also watch the tabulation process, according to state law.

Minnesota conducts post-election audits by local governments and the secretary’s office.

And Minnesotans need not worry, at least so far, about impartial or politically loaded state canvassing boards. The Minnesota canvassing board that certifies each election is outlined in the Constitution and consists of the secretary of state, two Minnesota Supreme Court Justices and two county district judges, each picked by leadership of those court systems.

None of those justices can be up for the election for which they certify.

Local jurisdictions eventually transmit vote totals via an electronic file to the Secretary of State’s office that moves over a secure line, access to which requires a password and two party authentication. Any discrepancy in vote totals would be detected by the office including its highly trained cyber navigator, according to Simon.

The public has a stake in Minnesota elections not only by casting a vote but also for an ability to oversee the transparent process. We can be assured the Minnesota system is fair and accurate and one in which we can place our full faith.

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