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Let's put first things first

Minnesotans deserve better than what they are getting from their government. Much better.

When the Minnesota State Legislature convened in February, it had only one task that truly needed to get done: Balance the budget. It's required by the Constitution.

But instead, balancing the budget was the LAST thing the Minnesota Democrat-led legislature accomplished. After four months, including weekends and several all-night sessions, the Speaker led the Legislature into a one-day special session -- because we couldn't get our work done on time.

It shouldn't take marathon negotiations, multiple all-nighters, and the passage of omnibus bills that are so big there's no way that most legislators can read every one of them.

The heavy lifting was done early. Governor Pawlenty did it by proposing a balanced budget back in February. Minnesota Democrat legislative leaders could have put their own budget on the table and serious negotiations could have begun then and there.

Instead, what did we get? We got a $999 million borrowing bill, despite the fact that the state of Minnesota was already deeply in debt. We got an additional $85 million environmental project bill. We got months of debate about secondary issues such as eco-street designs and whether Zambonis cause air pollution in ice rinks.

It doesn't have to be this way. It's time we ask our lawmakers to put first things first. Balancing the books shouldn't be a legislative afterthought, it should be job one.

During the session I proposed that the Legislature put forth its own balanced budget within 45 days of receiving the governor's budget. As governor, I will insist upon it.

This is a reasonable proposal, and long overdue.

What would this reform accomplish? This reform would put an end to procrastinating until the last minute to resolve major legislative issues. Imagine what it would be like if we could have honest to goodness debate on the budget priorities for the state of Minnesota, and a genuine opportunity for citizens to have a voice in the budget process.

One reason I am running for governor is that I am fed up with how things are done in St. Paul. Too often it seems as if a lawmaker's goal is to score political points instead of to solve real problems. The only jobs being "saved or created" seem to be those of government employees and bureaucrats.

Watching the Legislature work this way is frustrating. In these difficult economic times, it's unacceptable. Minnesotans simply cannot afford the luxury of having politicians who look out for the interests of government before the interests of taxpayers.

The Minnesota Constitution declares that government exists "for the security, benefit and protection of the people." We have strayed a long way from that original purpose, and it's time we get back to it.

Economists predict the state of Minnesota will face a large budget deficit over the next two years. It's time we get serious about restructuring and reforming government. The only way to do that is to change the way things are done in St. Paul.

A governor can't do it alone. We need to change the political culture in St. Paul and put first things first by requiring the Legislature to propose a balanced budget soon after the governor. Because until the Legislature puts its cards on the table, the real business of governing can't begin.

So when you see your local legislative candidates this summer, insist that they support putting "first things first." If we can pass this reform, it will be a good first step to getting the budget back under control.

Tom Emmer is the State Representative from Delano and the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor.