Thursday, February 19, 2009

"It's too hard!" 

Frequently students come to my office, usually near the end of the semester, and ask if I can give them an 'incomplete' grade for the class. They need more time, they say, to do the work required. Sometimes their reasons are valid, like an illness or in one case jury duty that lasted four weeks. Many other times, though, the student simply managed his time poorly, in which case the answer is 'no'.

I've posted and spoken on the Final Word about the inability of the DFL leadership in the Minnesota Legislature to come up with a budget plan. I think we're making some headway on this, because today DFL Assistant Leader Tarryble Clark responds that it's too hard for her to figure out a budget:
Perhaps an explanation of the well-established processes the governor and the Legislature follow when creating the budget will help ease the confusion.

Every two years the governor puts together a budget for the state for the next two years. The governor, his staff, and the staff at the agencies he controls are the only group capable of assembling a complete budget of the size and complexity our state requires.

There are hundreds of people working up to seven months to produce the documents that become our budget.

The Legislature's duty is to examine the governor's budget, seek input from the public and accept, reject or modify what the governor is proposing.
Not so fast my friend (with apologies to Lee Corso.)

First, the budget process does have the governor providing a budget. But what about new governors? How much extra time do they get, given they don't even know they're governors until the first week of November? The answer, according to the Senate, is three weeks. This seven months and a full staff explanation is a canard. If you really needed that long to develop a budget, you would not hamstring new governors with such a short time horizon.

Second, the idea that poor little Tarryl has nobody to help her and her colleagues develop a budget is, to be polite, connerie. The Senate has 211 full time staff members; the House, 249. That's more than four hundred staffers. The Senate has a budget of over $25 million. The House doubled the amount of money it spends on its committee structure. Why does Senator Clark think they are incapable of helping her develop a budget?

Third, Senator Clark has received $4,128 in interim per diem payments which means since the end of the special session last year. Not only was there 211 full time Senate staffers, they had access to 43 days worth of Mrs. Clark ($4,128 divided by the miserly per diem rate of $96.) Her leader, Larry Pogemiller, had 73 days; Tax Committee chair (and DFL gubernatorial candidate?) Tom Bakk, 60. If they did not have time to write a budget, what were they doing that they thought was more important? Do any of them intend to account for these days?

During these "listening sessions" -- and you can still sign up to speak, if you want -- you are probably not going to get answers to the following questions. You should ask them anyway:
  1. Can you account for the days you spent for which you received interim per diem payments?
  2. Why is it so hard for legislators to complete a budget when they have large, full-time staffs?
  3. Why does Minnesota state statute say a new governor has to come up with a budget within seven weeks of entering office, but the leaders of the Senate cannot in seven months? Is it too hard for you? Why?

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