Monday, April 16, 2007

There is no midpoint between right and wrong 

Three Saturdays ago, I said as the Minnesota Senate left town that they would pass their tax increase under dark of weekend and then go out and get the local papers and the trade unions and teachers and all to beat drums in favor of it.

The Sunday St. Cloud Times outdid itself yesterday. I can barely talk about Edith Rylander's column, except that I believe she's the Edith Archie Bunker really was talking to. Her logic goes like this: Government bought something, it did some good, so government spending is good. The thought that it might be provided for less, or provided better, never enters her meathead. Forget convincing her that government spending builds dependency, she's already gone around that bend.

I gave the column by Randy Krebs attacking Steve Gottwalt a comment here. But I'd like to add something that more belongs on this blog than on a comment, regarding what I see as the education of a freshman legislator.

Recall back to last fall, when Steve Gottwalt and Diana Murphy-Podawiltz vied for the seat in 15A. I covered a debate of theirs, and at the time I said this about Gottwalt:
He is much more a moderate than I thought before, particularly on fiscal issues. While even a moderate stands out against the backdrop of DMP, Steve is nonetheless one to argue for smart, careful fee or tax increases. I was the one who wrote the "name a place that grew after raising taxes" question, and he correctly said "none." But in other places as you see in my notes, he was in favor of higher auto license fees, for MVST -- he and I have sparred on Northstar in the past, as he has a preference for spending programs for transportation. He's much more positively disposed to JOBZ and other business tax incentive programs than I would be.
I heard more of him over the last two months of the election and I saw nothing that changed my view that he wasn't altogether hawkish on tax increases -- just that he wanted accountability. That matched his behavior as a city councilor: Pragmatic, willing to put money into things he can show get results.

Now if one wanted to take a very narrow view of what's happened since then, one might say he hasn't changed a thing. He may still favor tax increases if they come with real accountability. But one very annoying thing about this legislative session is that none of the spending proposals have accountability to them. The education bill is a gigantic pork train; the governor's call for merit pay for MnSCU has fallen on deaf ears. Find a bill that has an accountability component.

I say "he may still favor..." because I don't know. I haven't asked him. But based on what he's been saying lately, I think perhaps he's learned that government is never accountable. As Reagan once said, government is like a baby, "an alimentary canal with a loud voice at one end and no responsibility at the other end." When he gets Cy Thao breathing on him, or Tarryl Clark speeding past him in a town hall meeting (notice how long those things lasted as bipartisan events?) or tries to talk compromise in a committee passing a sex ed bill and gets rolled time and again on party line votes, or ... well, at some point it becomes time to check your premises. Again, I haven't asked him, but I'd say Rep. Gottwalt has indeed changed. He's received an education in partisanship, a new experience for him vis-a-vis the St. Cloud City Council. (Not that the latter isn't partisan, but not to the extent the legislature has become.)

As John Maynard Keynes once said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" The facts of this Legislature have changed. The DFL is now in charge of the House, and it seems hellbent on spending and taxing and not asking the GOP for any input. So my question to Randy Krebs is, was Steve just supposed to sit there and take it?

Maybe he's just learned that there's no midpoint between right and wrong, and the DFL's tax plan is wrong in kind, not just in degree. If that's what Gottwalt has learned, he's shown more intelligence than the St. Cloud Times.

Labels: , , ,