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State legislature frozen in dysfunction

St. Paul seems to be holding its customary winter celebration in August. The state Capitol remains frozen in dysfunction as Gov. Mark Dayton and the legislative leaders of both parties continue their slow-motion - glacial - feud over the tax and bonding bills. The ice palace now has crumbled with the collapse of talks on taxes and a bonding bill. Dayton announced that he will not call a special session. As a result, Minnesotans will not benefit from $500 million in tax cuts or almost $1 billion in public works projects, including a much-needed traffic underpass in Moorhead.

The failure to agree on an agenda for a special session has major consequences throughout the state, including the loss of $700 million in funding for some of Minnesota's most dangerous highways and bridges. Unfunded priority projects include a project to allow street traffic to pass beneath rail traffic at an intersection near Main Avenue and 20th Street in Moorhead, where motorists - including police, fire and ambulance crews - often must wait for trains to pass.

As a result of the evaporated tax cuts, Minnesota farmers won't get a break to lighten their burden in paying property taxes for school projects.

As happened at the end of the regular legislative session in May, the governor and legislative leaders deadlocked over whether to include funding for a light rail project to serve the southwestern Twin Cities in the bonding bill. Dayton and many of his fellow DFLers kept pushing for the rail project, but House Republicans refused to go along with the project. The governor and legislative leaders of both parties bemoaned what a Republican leader called "sandbox politics" - it is, after all, an election year - but neither side was willing to budge, so no compromise was reached.

Dayton isn't running for re-election, so it's easy for him to be stubborn without having to worry about his fate at the ballot box. But each of the 201 legislators is on the fall ballot. Now, instead of being able to face their constituents having delivered tax and infrastructure bills that had broad bipartisan support, legislators are spinning the failure, trying to stick the other party with the blame.

There's plenty of shared blame. More and more, St. Paul has come to resemble Washington in its polarization and gridlocked government. Voters will have to decide what to do about the mess.

This editorial was originally published in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

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