Robert Snyder, Bismarck, Published May 20 2013
Letter: Legislative leadership, vision sorely lacking in ND sessionThe 2013 legislative session is now over, with the traditional closing words “sine die.” With this Legislature, that could easily be interpreted as “good riddance.”
The following are of some of its accomplishments in no particular order of importance:
• Stalling on most of the major spending bills to the very end of the session, when they could not properly and openly be debated or discussed, and then rushing to get them passed at the last minute. In an absolute marathon, the final day of the session ran from 8 a.m. Friday, May 3, to 4:30 a.m. Saturday, May 4, a staggering 20-plus consecutive hours. One has to wonder how well-considered this last-minute legislation was. We’re talking about billions of dollars still on the table up to almost the last second.
• Enacting confusing property tax relief by burying some of it in other bills, including the education bill. It will take some to find out exactly what was done. The education bill itself caused a long and often-bitter argument between the two virtually one-party chambers before being passed in the middle of the night.
• Failing to arrive at a realistic income tax relief number. Up to the last day of the session, the two chambers, which are dominated by the same political party, were roughly 400 percent apart between their respective bills. Right at the end, the two chambers more or less split the difference and, given the huge gap, gave no rational explanation for doing so. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here.
• Alienating a lot of taxpayers by making them feel ignored and disenfranchised.
• Raising the members’ compensation.
• Spending weeks arguing about and then passing multiple anti-abortion measures without considering the costs of inviting years of expensive litigation, and woefully underfunding the attorney general’s office to defend all five of them, while at the same time underfunding programs for early childhood care.
• Allowing people like Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, and Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, to become the public faces of the session. This is a classic example of failure of leadership.
• Alienating a lot of women, some of whom were not angry about politics before, but are now.
• Passing inadequate infrastructure measures in a disjointed and ill-considered fashion, many of them at the end of the session.
• Favoring the corporation over the individual.
• Angering a lot of farmers and ranchers in the oil-producing areas of the state, by both enacting and not enacting several laws, which this group believes is unfair to them.
• Giving a textbook example of a legislative body having too much money (rare these days); a record amount of money was spent, and it was spent by a party that claims to demand fiscal restraint. It also demonstrates the danger of such a body being dominated by a single political party without effective opposition, plus having the same party controlling the governorship as well. This shows the necessity for a more balanced membership to be truly functional.
• Wanting, but thankfully not passing, a proposed constitutional amendment, to get 50 percent more time than is now arguably being wasted. The members knew they had no chance on that one for obvious reasons.
• Effectively silencing Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who’s the CEO of this state. What does anyone remember him doing or saying during the four months of this session, other than signing bills (every single one of which has been enacted without a veto)? Of course, both he and his staff were well aware that a successful veto was highly unlikely, given the fact that his political party had such a domination of both chambers that they could easily override any veto.
• Setting a record for session days used (all 80 days allowed by the state constitution, the first time that’s ever been done), with absolutely nothing being reserved for the next two years should a special session become necessary. The only available exception I know of is for the governor to declare a state emergency, and if that “emergency” is because the Legislature used up all of its session days, it will make a lot of voters angrier than they already are.
Add it all up, and it’s not a good legislative legacy. Rather than patting themselves on the back as they’ve been doing, the members of this Legislature should be ashamed for what they both have and have not done. Unlike Rep. Michael Brandenburg, I, for one, do not have a “nice warm, fuzzy, feeling” about the results. I suggest that the voters in 2014 remember all of what’s happened.