Paul Kohls and the Spending Accountability Amendment

Fresh off a short, doomed run at the governor’s office, State Representative Paul Kohls is back in the fray by taking the lead for House Republicans on Governor Tim Pawlenty’s proposed “Spending Accountability Amendment”.

The amendment, which is largely modeled on initiatives like Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), would restrict spending in a two-year budget cycle to the revenues received in the previous two-year cycle.  In other words, spending in 2010-2011 would be limited to the actual revenues received in 2008-2009.  Currently, the Legislature builds the state budget based on projections of revenues and expenses under current law and makes adjustments where necessary to ensure the budget will be in balance.

For practically all of the last decade (except for the 2004-05 cycle where surpluses were used to offset the school accounting shifts of the 1990s), the state of Minnesota has found itself in a deficit situation.  The solution in St. Paul has too frequently been shortcuts, gimmicks, and shifts designed to kick the can down the road and avoid political pain.

With a $5+ billion deficit and no federal stimulus package coming to bail us out in the next biennium, it is clear that fundamental change and real leadership is required to lead this state out of its budget crisis.

Unfortunately, Republicans like Kohls and Pawlenty continue to prove that they are not up to the task.  Warmed-over constitutional amendment proposals that have already failed in other states (Colorado was forced to suspend TABOR because of a budget crisis in 2005, and California is crippled by initiatives and amendments, for instance) are not serious solutions to the problems that we face.

You don’t fix the problems of today (and you certainly don’t do anything to address the future) by tying your budget to things that happened two years ago.  Families don’t run their budgets that way.  Businesses don’t run their budgets that way.  There’s no reason we should force the state to budget that way, either.

There’s honest concern about the growth in government spending.  Everyone — Democrats and Republicans — should work to be good stewards of the revenue state government collects.  And certainly, with a severe budget crisis looming, all areas of the budget are going to feel pain. 

The question is, though, do we want (or need) to make this budget pain continual?  What is the purpose of having a State Legislature if we aren’t going to let them do their jobs?  This state is already severely underinvested in critical areas from health care to education to transportation. We need to empower legislators to have all available tools at their disposal to solve these problems.

This amendment, though, ties the Legislature to an arbitrary number based on the past.  And this amendment isn’t about accountability at all, unless it’s in the context of folks like Kohls and Pawlenty being accountable to the narrow interest groups that are the tail that wags the Republican dog.

While Pawlenty is already largely gone in spirit (and will be gone completely next fall), it’s time for us to shine a light on the dismal record of Paul Kohls.  Kohls will get his press conferences and his TV time hyping this nonsensical amendment, and then come January he’ll be back on the sidelines slapping himself on the back for voting “No”, and doing nothing to advance real solutions to Minnesota’s problems and doing nothing to help the people of 34A.

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