FOR A FEW hours this past week, it looked like the Legislature finally would give governors the tools to oversee the administrative functions of the government that voters believe they elected them to lead, and give itself the tools to provide a check on executive authority. But in the end, senators allowed the bill that has been at the center of the state’s political debate for the past two years to die, and with it another lackluster session that did precious little to improve our state.
Lawmakers did manage to keep the State Retirement System solvent — that is, to do the minimum necessary to prevent this year’s six-month session being a complete and utter waste of time and money.
Check that: This session probably won’t end up a complete failure, but we can’t be sure, because they adjourned without passing the one thing they must every year: a budget. They get another chance this week, but even some grizzled veterans worry what will happen if a tax-cut work-around fails and the House continues to demand that the Senate revive a corruption-tainted bobtailing procedure that was discredited, denounced and abandoned a decade ago.
In a year dominated by ethics, from a national report that ranked our state among the most susceptible to corruption to the House Ethics Committee’s bungling of charges against the governor and her attorney’s counter-attack on legislators’ ethics, the Legislature maintained its self-policing and did nothing to require the public disclosure of lawmakers’ income and campaign donors’ identities that is commonplace elsewhere. It didn’t even pass a bill to stop government agencies from delaying and charging exorbitant fees for access to public documents.
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Video gambling interests sold several judges on a ploy to bring their outlawed industry back to life, yet the Legislature rebuffed efforts by police and prosecutors to close what might be a loophole in the law.
Lawmakers failed to reinstate any of the 250 candidates thrown off the primary and general election ballots, many for doing what state officials told them to do. That might have been impossible, but they didn’t even manage to fix the problem going forward.
House Republicans promised this would be the year to overhaul our special-interest-driven tax system, but all the Legislature managed to do was create even more loopholes. And as House leaders made clear in recent days, all that really mattered to them was pushing through yet more tax cuts.
Another year passed without the Legislature addressing the funding inequities behind a 20-year-old lawsuit that the Supreme Court plans to rehear this fall, much less giving principals the tools to improve their schools or the state the tools to turn around schools that aren’t improving enough.
And let’s not even talk about empowering local governments to do their jobs, an idea that doesn’t even get seriously discussed any more but that is every bit as essential to improving our state as the state government reform that lawmakers dropped at the finish line.