Tag Archives: State Legislature

Which tax provisions will survive?

Yesterday, after an inexplicable and embarrassing false start, the Minnesota State Senate passed its version of the omnibus tax bill.  The bill now moves to conference committee where it will be reconciled against the House’s version of the bill as well as Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal.  This may prove to be more work than expected, given that all three parties in the negotiations are DFL-controlled.

On a net basis (tax increases less new aids and credits), all three proposals raise between $1.5 and $1.7 billion dollars, but they get there in notably different ways:

1415summary

Let’s dig into the details.  Here are some of the key provisions in each plan:

1415details

Some elements should come together pretty quickly:  increasing LGA, increases to tobacco taxes, and reduction/removal of corporate exemptions for foreign source royalties and operating companies.

Other pieces are going to be more difficult.  House DFLers have committed themselves to paying off the remaining K-12 funding shift this session.  The temporary 4% surcharge on income is designed to get them to that point, raising $1.2 billion on its own.  However, both Dayton and Senate Democrats have listed the surcharge as not acceptable, and neither of them make any moves towards paying off the shift in their proposals.

Meanwhile, the Senate has stayed committed to advancing sales tax reform — proposing an expansion in goods and services subject to taxation while lowering the rate to 6% — while Dayton (in his updated budget) and House DFLers have stayed away from such proposals.

House DFLers have also advanced an increase in alcohol taxes that has run into substantial controversy.  Neither Dayton nor the Senate have embraced such a proposal.

So how do we get to a final bill?  Well, as it turns out, much of the Governor’s proposal ends up serving as a middle ground between the legislative proposals.  Dayton’s income tax rate increase on the wealthy touches a smaller group of taxpayers than the Senate version, which may be acceptable to the House.  But in order to get the House on board, Dayton and the Senate are going to have to make a significant move towards paying back the school shift.  How to do that?  By adopting the Senate’s cigarette tax revenue plan or the House’s plan which includes alcohol tax increases.  The House is likely also going to have to scale back (or eliminate) their property tax reforms.  Taking those steps should be able to ensure that at least half of the remaining shift is paid off.

With less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session, DFLers haven’t given themselves much time to hash through these issues, given the fragile nature of the coalitions they have had to put together to get these bills through the respective chambers.  It will be interesting to watch and see how the negotiations unfold.

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Survey says: District 112 evaluates referendum options

The Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) School Board has begun weighing potential referendum questions for this fall’s ballot.  This would be the first ballot question since 2011’s failed technology levy, as the District passed on putting any questions on the 2012 ballot.

It’s a virtual certainty that there will be one referendum question on the ballot, as two operating levies representing $8.7 million in annual funding (or just under 10% of the District’s general fund) expire after the 2013-14 school year, meaning that they must be extended this year, or significant cuts would be required.

But it’s the potential for other questions is where it gets interesting.  As noted in this week’s Chaska Herald, the District has surveyed residents on a number of possible referendums in recent months, including:

  • A $2.3 million technology levy (54% support/strongly support in the survey)
  • School security facility improvements (64%)
  • Dedicated facility for early childhood education (55%)
  • Purchase land for a new elementary school in Chaska or Carver (46%)
  • New swimming pool (38%)
  • Theater facility at Chaska High School (38%)
  • Construction of a domed athletic facility (38%)
  • New soccer/lacrosse fields (28%)

The last four items on the above list are dead on arrival.  And, despite the favorable survey results for the technology levy, going back to that well again may not prove to be wise.  That leaves us with three items for consideration, and let’s look at the case for and against each of them:

School security facility improvements:  FOR: These changes would largely update some of the older schools in the District to reconfigure and update entrances and other security features.  An example of such a change would be at Jonathan Elementary, where the front entrance of the school would be changed to funnel visitors through the office instead of into the school’s main floor hallway. AGAINST: Since Newtown, District schools have made staffing adjustments as required to help monitor entrances that are antiquated in their design.  Could these processes be continued less expensively than making facility upgrades?

Dedicated facility for early childhood education:  FOR:  Today, early childhood programs are spread across multiple facilities in the District (including Chaska High School and Bluff Creek and Chanhassen Elementary Schools).  The District’s E-8 Task Force has been looking at different options for siting early childhood programs, but the enrollment crunch at the elementary schools and the possible changes in high school boundaries puts these programs in the lurch.  A dedicated facility would provide stability for these programs, which could increase utilization and improve efficiency (staff today frequently has to travel between buildings). AGAINST:  Having multiple locations for early childhood programs can also be an advantage, as it can also drive enrollment.  A Chanhassen resident, for instance, may not be interested in driving their child westward in the morning to a centralized facility but could take advantage of programs currently in Chanhassen elementary schools.  Also, if a new elementary school is built, might existing space (like the Kindergarten Center) be adapted instead?  This is also a potentially expensive project, depending on location and size.

Purchase land for a new elementary school in Chaska or Carver:  A new elementary school in the western portion of the District is inevitable at this point, based on the sudden burst of new residential development in Southwest Chaska, Carver, and Victoria this year as well as legislative actions like the move to universal all-day kindergarten.  And while the District can likely muddle along with the current facilities for three to five more years, the right time to buy land for a new school may be now.  Why?  Historically low interest rates and low property values.  Waiting to buy the land until the school must be constructed could cost District taxpayers millions in increased expense and interest.  It’s also fairly standard practice to secure land before securing the funding for construction, so as not to be delayed when you actually do need to build the school.  For instance, the District acquired the future Chanhassen High School property via a levy passed in 2004 — five years and an additional referendum before the building was built and opened.  AGAINST:  Why spend a significant amount of money on buying land until it is absolutely necessary to do so?

It’s unlikely, of course, that District would put all three of these items on the ballot in addition to the operating levy renewal.  How should the School Board and Superintendent Jim Bauck proceed, then?

The reality is that none of the referendum questions is likely to succeed without a coordinated and coherent presentation of the facts behind the need for the referendum.  The District failed on that count with the 2011 technology levy.  From that perspective, the security upgrades have the easiest story to sell.

But if we’re truly interested in financial responsibility, the notion of buying land for the new elementary school needs to be on the table as well.  Being able to acquire land now at favorable terms makes sense, since we know that the school will need to be constructed at some point in the short- to medium-term.

Past School Boards have been very cautious about putting referendum questions on the ballot, even those that do show majority support.  Even though the concept of buying land for a new elementary school shows mixed support in the survey, it may well be the right thing to do.  And the District should fight for doing the right thing by its citizens and taxpayers.

[Photo is Family Feud host Richard Dawson, from back in the day.]

How to go the right way on legislator pay

The Minnesota State Senate passed their version of the  State Government omnibus budget bill on Tuesday by a narrow 34-32 margin.  5 DFL members defected from the rest of the majority, primarily over the issue of pay raises in the bill.  Under the provisions of the bill, the Governor would get a raise from $120,000 to $128,000 effective in 2016 (and would be adjusted for inflation every year after that), while legislators would have their salary pegged as 1/3 of the governor’s pay.  That would represent over a $10,000 raise over the current legislative salaries of $31,140.  Commissioners of state departments would also see higher pay as well, going up to 133% of the Governor’s salary.

In addition to their base salaries, legislators also earn a per diem for their legislative activities, and a housing allowance of $1,200 per month is available for those who live more than 50 miles away from the State Capitol.  Per diem for most legislators runs about $10,000 per year.

There are some legitimate reasons to consider a pay increase for state legislators.  (And, in fact, despite the largely party-line vote, there is broad bipartisan agreement that a pay increase may be justified.)  First, they haven’t  received a pay increase since 1999, meaning that, adjusted for inflation, legislators are being paid about 30% less than they were then.  Second, there is concern that low legislative salaries may be a barrier to attracting people to run for office or retaining them while they are there.  This may be a factor in the increasing age of the Legislature, which in the House has increased by five years since 2000.  Third, the demands on our officially part-time Legislators are increasing, as the job continues to edge closer to being a full-time year-round commitment with yearly special sessions and fall/winter committee meetings on top of normal constituent outreach and service.

While those are all valid, increases to legislator salaries shouldn’t come without some reform to make the process more rational. (And let’s not forget the dreadful optics of increasing their own pay while the minimum wage languishes and state compensation rates for nursing home and home health care workers have stagnated for years.)  Here’s three specific reforms we should get in return for opening the door to increasing legislative salaries:

  • End in-session per diem:  Legislators are eligible to take per diem seven days a week while the Legislature is in session (even if there is no official business on that day).  As a result, the per diem requested by most legislators during the session tends to be pretty tightly distributed.  There’s little value added to administering such a process — let’s just increase legislative salaries to reflect an average number of days the legislature is in session per year and leave per diem to only cover days outside of the normal legislative session.
  • Standardize per diem rates for the House and the Senate:  Currently, State Senators get a higher per diem rate than House members.   The purpose of a per diem — to compensate a legislator for expenses incurred — doesn’t change based on the body the Legislator serves in.
  • No pay for legislators or the Governor if a budget is not reached:  If a state budget is not agreed to by the start of the fiscal year, then legislators and the Governor don’t get paid for the time until a budget is reached.  No salary, no per diem for the special session.  And when the budget does finally get passed, they don’t get that money retroactively.

To take a more radical approach, Minnesota could adopt a compensation plan similar to Ohio’s, which ditches the per diem and allowance model altogether and has a set schedule of pay based on a legislator’s role (leadership positions get bumps in pay).  Either way, it’s not too much to expect some reform to come along with any increase in salary for legislators or the Governor.

(It should be noted that the House DFL majorities have come out firmly against pay increases, leaving them out of their version of the State Government bill, which will likely set up some interesting Conference Committee discussions to hash out a final version of the bill.)

To the Woodshed We Go

 

Sometimes, it’s not just the weather that makes you cranky.  Sometimes, it’s the politicians that drive you nuts.  Let’s take some folks out to the woodshed for some well-deserved constructive criticism.

Legislative Republicans:  For Digging the Hole Even Deeper

A few days ago, we talked about how Legislative Republicans were engaging in some rather remarkable rhetoric about the state budget — and that their promises were unlikely to add up unless they introduced substantial cuts to all areas of the budget outside of K-12 education and health and human services.  Well, yesterday, it got worse.  House DFLers introduced their K-12 education bill, and Republicans (Rep. Kelby Woodard again) added to their audacious promises.  Already faced with the prospect of coming up with nearly $1.5 billion in cuts, Woodard signed the GOP up for a 2% increase in the basic formula ($300 million) and fixing the special education funding gap (another $475 million on top of the DFL proposal).  Doing all of what Woodard and the GOP claim can be done with “existing resources” would now take over $2 billion in cuts to other areas of the budget, or nearly a 20% across-the-board cut.  Again, remember these numbers the next time a Republican legislator bloviates about how everything can be done with “existing resources” without offering any details of how they would make it happen.

Governor Mark Dayton and House DFLers:  For Bonding Bills That Need Some Changes

This week, Governor Mark Dayton and the House DFL caucus released their proposals for odd-year bonding packages.  Such requests are somewhat uncommon, as bonding is usually done in even years only, although additional bonding has become a frequent point of negotiation during budget stalemates in recent years.  While I agree with DFL logic that we should take advantage of low interest rates to invest in infrastructure, an odd-year bonding package should imply that we’re doing some special things here.  Too much of both proposals is taken up with the same old local projects (many of which have been already rejected in previous cycles), which can easily wait for inclusion in the usual even-year bonding package.  The House bill has some stronger elements to it — particularly its increased emphasis on transportation and higher education projects.

It’s also inconceivable to me that you can have two $800 million bonding bills, none of which make any commitment to the Mayo Clinic “Destination Medical Center” proposal.  As a state, we have an opportunity to support nearly $6 billion in private investment in the state with a maximum of $585 million in infrastructure improvements.  We should be jumping at this opportunity to help create thousands of long-term, good-paying jobs in Southern Minnesota by including a substantial investment towards this project (between $75 and $150 million as called for in the stand-alone legislation).

I’d like to see a more focused bonding bill that focuses on transportation, higher education, State Capitol renovation, and the Mayo project — less expensive and more appropriate for an odd-year bonding package.

While we’re at it, let’s also deliver a kick-in-the-pants to the Democratic majorities in the Legislature for the leisurely pace of their budget bills so far.  Last session, the Republican majorities had already passed through the first version of all the budget proposals by this point (to be fair, they then languished for a long time in conference committee before coming back for final approval).  It’s time to shift the budget process into a higher gear, folks.

Minnesota Vikings Stadium Supporters:  For Not Facing Reality

Here’s another issue where on the merits, Governor Mark Dayton and other Minnesota Vikings stadium supporters are right.  In the whole scheme of things, the shortfall in e-pulltab revenues is a problem, but not a crisis.  And stadium opponents are indeed grandstanding (here’s looking at you, Sen. Sean Nienow).  But, guess what?  This problem was foreseeable at the start — maybe not to this extent — but it was hardly a secret that there were serious concerns over the revenue projections.  If you want to shut Nienow and the like up, the answer is simple:  fix the bill and put in place a better backup plan.  Trying to wait this thing out in the hopes the revenue situation will improve is only going to make this issue grow and grow and grow.

It would also help matters if the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities, which will have oversight of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority budget was more balanced from an ideological perspective.  Of the 12 members, 10 voted for the stadium bill, one voted against (Rep. Jim Davnie) and one is a freshman (Sen. Karin Housley).  Having some legislators with a more skeptical eye would be useful to the process.

Carver County GOP:  For Wallowing in Sleaze and Extremism

Our good friends over at the Carver County GOP have taken to the Twitter.  So far, they’ve managed to find links to just about every cheap and baseless conspiracy theory out there.  Here are a few examples:

One would have thought that official Republican party bodies would have given up birtherism and bogus voter fraud nonsense by now, but I guess not.  But if tinfoil hats are your thing, you should follow them.

GOP’s phony baloney budget math

Two weeks ago, DFL leaders in the House and Senate released their budget targets, and we should be seeing the specific budget bills in each area shortly (in fact, they are overdue at this point).  Like Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal, the legislative budgets each total around $38 billion.

The House budget prioritizes paying back the school shift (accomplished with a blink-on income tax surcharge on top of the new fourth bracket for high-income earners) and property tax relief (an additional $250 million in local government aid).

The Senate budget, like the Governor’s, leaves the school shift untouched — which would keep the current law of any surpluses going to pay down the shift — and prioritizes property tax relief and economic development.

Both legislative budgets contained a surprise, though, as they each sliced $150 million from the forecast spending in health and human services.  Coming after a $1.2 billion cut in the last budget cycle and Dayton’s proposal to raise HHS spending by $128 million, it was a shock to many — including Republicans who have criticized those cuts.

There’s only one part of government where people could die and that’s in our area where the people with disabilities and health care and rural hospitals. I was just really surprised. Nobody saw that coming. — Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka)

While politically convenient to attack DFL cuts to HHS, it makes the budget math for Republicans that much harder.  Republicans have rhetorically committed themselves towards paying back the school shift this session.

We should pay the entire shift back right now. – Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine)

Before any changes to current law, the state finds itself with a $627 million deficit.  The remaining school shift is $850 million.  That’s a total of $1.477 billion that has to be found — without raising taxes.  Yet, Republicans have boxed themselves in by essentially taking K-12 and HHS off the table.  Those two areas of the budget represent $26.5 billion of the $36.7 billion in forecast spending for the next biennium.

Which means that those remaining areas of the budget would face the equivalent of a 12.5% across the board cut in order to balance the budget.  That includes higher education, public safety, transportation, economic development, and veterans programs.  Some of these programs have already taken severe cuts in previous budget cycles.

Does that sound sustainable or realistic?  Of course not.

But since Republicans are refusing to put forward their own budget proposal, they are attempting to fly free on their phony baloney budget assertions that we can hold taxes steady and cut our way to prosperity.  And they’re trying to avoid having to answer for the cuts that would be required to make their budget math add up.

So the next time your local Republican legislator tries to pass off that spin, ask them for the details of how they make the math work.  Just don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer.

[Picture is of Rep. Kelby Woodard]

Looking for a Republican suburban woman and other thoughts

MinnPost ran a story last week on prospective GOP candidates for Governor.  Of note in that story was a quote from prominent Republican operative Ben Golnik lamenting the fact that “the ideal candidate — a female from the suburbs” wasn’t out there.  As such, I found it interesting that the name of State Senator Julianne Ortman didn’t come up.  Ortman’s resume — in the Senate over a decade, former Deputy Majority Leader, a caucus leader on tax and legal issues — stacks up comparably against many of the other named contenders.  And she’s one of the Senate GOP’s better communicators, as evidenced by her continuing high profile despite not holding a formal leadership position anymore.

I have no idea if Ortman is interested in higher office — perhaps she’s signaled she’s not, which is why she didn’t make this piece.  But it seems that for many, the list of women available for statewide runs in the Minnesota Republican Party ends with Laura Brod now that Amy Koch is out of the Senate.

Given that the current list of prospective candidates all have significant question marks as it relates to their ability to either earn the Republican endorsement or win a general election — Sen. Dave Thompson might be too conservative for a statewide election, Rep. Kurt Zellers was widely criticized for his leadership (or lack thereof) last session as Speaker of the House, Sen. David Hann was an also-ran in the 2010 race for Governor, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has perhaps spent too much time on gun issues for the base’s liking, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has already lost one statewide race (Attorney General in 2006) — it seems maybe the list of usual suspects should be expanded.  But, of course, I doubt the Republicans are looking to me for advice.

Here are some other things happening in the community:

  • In case you haven’t already heard, two new restaurants opened in Chaska in the last week or so:  BullChicks in Chaska Commons, and Egg & Pie Diner in downtown.  I’m hearing positive word-of-mouth on both.
  • The two facility taskforces convened by the Eastern Carver County School District continue to make progress.  The High School taskforce is wrestling with the question of balancing programming and demographics between Chaska and Chanhassen High Schools.  Meanwhile, the Early Childhood through Middle School task force is working on finding the best way to deal with overcrowded schools on the west side of the District as well as finding a permanent home for the La Academia Spanish immersion program.  I am a member of the Early Childhood through Middle School task force  and I can attest to the difficult challenges that lie ahead here.  Over the next few months, there will be opportunities for public input on potential changes — I encourage you to keep your eyes open and attend those sessions when they occur.

Dayton rolls out revised budget plan

Governor Mark Dayton rolled out his revised budget plan today, reflecting adjustments required after the February forecast trimmed the projected 2014-2015 budget deficit from $1.1 billion to $627 million.

Here are the key changes in the proposal compared to Dayton’s original budget:

  • All sales tax reform is removed from the budget:  no business sales tax expansion, no expansion of consumer sales taxes to services, and no reduction in the sales tax rate.
  • The $500 property tax refund has been removed, although Dayton does invest an additional $18 million in increasing the pool for the renter’s property tax refund.
  • The cut in the corporate income tax rate has been removed, but changes to eliminate tax breaks for foreign operating companies and foreign royalty payments remain in the budget, raising about $370 million.
  • The proposed school shift payback in 2016-2017 has been removed from the budget.  Dayton would continue with current law, paying back the remaining shift as surpluses come in.

Dayton’s spending plan remains essentially unchanged from his original proposal.

Legislative reaction fell as expected along party lines.  Democrats, many of whom were wary of Dayton’s business sales tax proposals, were more positive about this budget.

“For too long we have seen our budget deficits resolved by deep cuts to the middle class and one-time fixes,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen. “That approach has only given us more deficits, higher property taxes, and larger classroom sizes. It is high time we reject the status quo and build a budget that positions our state to thrive in the future.” (via kare11.com)

One point of contention among DFLers is likely to be Dayton’s failure to address the school shift.  Expect a DFL legislative budget that includes a partial shift payback.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to call for the budget deficit to be closed by reducing spending.

“I think it’s time for the people of Minnesota to weigh in on all of the taxes and just ask the question, do you need high taxes to grow the economy? We don’t believe so,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R- Eden Prairie. (via MPR)

GOP legislators have yet to introduce a budget proposal of their own, continuing a regrettable trend of legislative minorities choosing to complain from the sidelines instead of producing something that can be matched up side-by-side.

Ortman introduces Senate version of compromise gun bill

State Senator Julianne Ortman introduced the Senate version of the compromise gun control bill today.  The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ortman is one of 17 Republicans who have indicated support for the bill, while five DFL legislators have signed on as co-authors of the measure.

Provisions in the bill include:

  • requirements to more quickly send state data to the national background check database
  • expand the parameters which disqualify people convicted of violent crimes from owning a gun
  • increased penalties for illegal gun possession and “straw purchases” (where someone buys a gun on behalf of someone who is prohibited from owning a weapon)
  • making it a crime to falsely report a gun as stolen

Supporters of the bill include the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, and the Minnesota Sheriffs Association.  Carver County Reps. Joe Hoppe and Ernie Leidiger are co-authors on the House version of the bill.

Read the full press release from Sen. Ortman’s office below:

 

 

 

Leidiger, Hoppe back compromise gun control bill

Carver County State Representatives Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) and Ernie Leidiger (R-Mayer) have signed on as co-authors of a compromise gun control bill, H.F. 1323, which contains only measures that have significant bipartisan support.  More controversial measures, such as universal background checks and bans on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, are not included in the bill.

Provisions in the bill, chief authored by Debra Hilstrom (D-Brooklyn Center) include:

  • requirements to more quickly send state data to the national background check database
  • expand the parameters which disqualify people convicted of violent crimes from owning a gun
  • increased penalties for illegal gun possession and “straw purchases” (where someone buys a gun on behalf of someone who is prohibited from owning a weapon)
  • making it a crime to falsely report a gun as stolen

73 House members (17 DFL, and 56 GOP) are sponsoring the bill, which also has the support of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association and the National Rifle Association.  That’s a majority of the House’s 134 members.

Despite the broad support, however, the bill is not without its critics.  House Public Safety Committee Chair Michael Paymar (D-St. Paul), who earlier introduced a bill that included universal background checks, has indicated he won’t give the new bill a committee hearing.  In the State Senate, meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee is poised to also move forward a bill containing universal background checks.  No Senate version of the Hilstrom bill has been introduced yet, although this bill would seem to fit the parameters of what Sen. Julianne Ortman was talking about when she discussed alternative legislation to the Senate bill (S.F. 235).

Resistance from the critical committee chairs in both houses may mean that supporters will be forced to engage in some parliamentary maneuvering to get this bill to the floor for a vote.  This bill clearly opens the fissures in the DFL party on this issue, as well as revealing a gap in the law enforcement community, as the police chiefs and officers have lined up behind bills with universal background checks. It should make for some interesting times at the Capitol over the next two months.

Hoppe backs judicial retention election constitutional amendment

State Representative Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) has signed on as a co-author on H.F. 1083 that would fundamentally change the way judges are selected and elected in this state.  The bill would place a constitutional amendment before voters asking them to replace traditional judicial elections, where candidates can challenge incumbent judges, with judicial retention elections.  How would a judicial retention election work?

  • Incumbent judges would be subject to a yes-or-no retention vote at the end of their six-year term on the bench.  
  • Winners of the retention vote would get another six-year term; losers of the retention vote would lose their spot on the bench at the end of their term.
  • The governor, selecting from a pool of candidates vetted by a bipartisan merit selection commission, would appoint a replacement.  The replacement would face a retention vote in the first election occurring more than one year after they were appointed.  (For instance, if a judge were appointed in 2015, they would face a retention vote in 2016.  A judge appointed in 2016 would face a retention vote in 2018.)
  • A Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission would be established with the purpose of providing feedback to voters on the judge’s performance — assigning them to one of three categories (“Well-qualified”, “qualified”, or “not qualified”).  Evaluations would be completed and published at the midway point of the judge’s six-year term as well as in the year of their retention election.

Supporters of the bill point to the fact that about 90% of judicial elections are unopposed today, meaning that even “unqualified” judges may be getting a free pass to another term on the bench.  They also suggest that retention election will work to get money out of judicial elections, lessening the possibility of moneyed interests essentially buying a judgeship.

Opponents of the bill point out that in some ways, judicial elections lessen accountability by putting selection of judges solely in the hands of the governor.  Additionally, there are concerns about the standards to be used by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.  The bill specifies the following as criteria to be used:  “knowledge of the law, procedure, integrity, impartiality, temperament, respect for litigants, respect for the rule of law, administrative skill, punctuality, and communication skills.”

What is excluded from these criteria include measures of a judge’s quality of work.  The language of the bill specifically excludes looking at measures like how often their opinions are overturned by higher courts or statistical studies of how their sentences compare with sentencing guidelines.  Such data is readily available and should be included in any comprehensive evaluation of judicial performance.

Local judicial activists have indicated preferences for candidates (legislative and judicial) who are opposed to retention elections.

I’m inclined to agree with the opponents of judicial retention elections.  Retention elections do not create accountability and transparency to the extent supporters claim they do — in fact, on net, they tend to limit public input on judges.  Being able to directly challenge an incumbent judge — even if rare and even if rarely successful — is important and shouldn’t have additional layers of bureaucracy placed in between the people and their preferences.  Minnesota has campaign finance law that has been reasonably effective in limiting the influence of moneyed interests from influencing judicial election results and the political parties themselves have exercised restraint in turning these elections into partisan sideshows.

(Additionally, it should be pointed out that this yet another example of Rep. Hoppe backing yet another constitutional amendment while claiming not to like legislating that way.)

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