Thursday, July 14, 2005

Reflections on the end of the special session

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:17 AM |  

A couple of must read comments on the final actions of the legislature yesterday that illustrate the intellectual integrity of conservative Republicans, who are able to put principle above party.

The first Minnesota Taxpayer League President David Strom‘s post "This is Leadership?” It’s posted on his and wife Margaret’s personal blog, Our House, where as David has noted, opinions are his and Margaret’s individual opinions, not necessarily official viewpoints of the Taxpayer’s League. This allows them some latitude in expressing their views, and David uses just about all of it, mincing no words in his evaluation of Governor Pawlenty’s end-of-the-special-session maneuvers.
Governor Pawlenty completed his transformation today from honest guy to cynical politician. In an effort to ensure that Republicans voted for his cigarette "fee"..., he forced his allies in the Legislature to choose between voting for a pro-life provision in the Human Services bill or voting against his "health impact fee."

In other words, by insisting that the "fee" remain in the Human Services bill, he made sure to split the fiscal conservative part of the Republican base from the social conservative part. Either vote pro-life, or vote anti-tax.

When asked to allow the two votes to be split so conservatives could vote their conscience--and keep their promises to their constituents--he essentially said "tough luck."
Over at SCSC Scholars, King Banaian reminds us that in exchange for a 75-cent cigarette tax Pawlenty demanded that two of four measures be approved in exchange and that he got exactly none.
That sound you hear, Governor, is the frying pan flung off your head as a thank you for being such a nice guy to compromise with the Democrats. Being seen peevish won't help your ratings. Oh, and those four things you had to have two of? Please tell us which two you got. (To your credit, you seem to have won on the education parts of QComp and Get Ready, Get Credit, but I'm still waiting to hear on school choice.)
My two cents: On Q-Comp and Get Ready, Get Credit, King gives Pawlenty too much credit. If one thinks parsing the meaning of “tax” and “fee” is gamesmanship, wait until these two measures are touted as “education reform.” Neither are, which will be thee topic of my column next Wednesday in the Pioneer Press, but here’s a sneak preview.

Q-Comp, which was intended to be a merit pay for teachers program, as it was passed is nothing more than gravy money on top of the increase in education funding. It is no longer a pay for performance program that replaces the “steps and lanes“ pay system. It is a taxpayer-funded individual teacher development program that complements steps and lanes, plus it strengthens the teacher’s union’s grip on how teacher’s are judged and compensated, especially in charter schools. As reaction plays out in the press, note that Education Minnesota, which has gone apoplectic in the past at the mere mention of the concept of merit pay for teachers, is relatively silent on this proposal. Ask yourself why?

Get Ready, Get Credit, which enables juniors and seniors in high school to take college level classes for credit sounds like a great idea. Indeed, for some students, it is. But the question that needs to be asked is given limited state resources, is the best place to spend them on another predominantly middle-class entitlement program for kids that are at or near the top of their classes?

The biggest problems in education, for individual students and Minnesota in general, are the achievement gap between white students and children of color and the low completion rate for high school. Get Ready, Get Credit does nothing to address the priority issues. It simply takes government schools off the hook for their inability to provide challenging course work for advanced students. (See Cheri-Pierson Yeckie’s OP-ED in today’s Pioneer Press.)

Get Ready, Get Credit simply drops funding on a strong Republican voting block, but does nothing to address the real problem areas with education -- which school choice in the form of the Hann/Buesgens bill or extending the existing education tax credit to cover private school tuition, as Rep. Jim Knoblach and Sen. Julianne Ortman proposed, would have done.

Bottom line, the incarnation of Q-Comp that survived the legislative process and Get Ready, Get Credit are no more education “reform” measures than the 75-cent a pack increase in cigarette price is due to a “fee” not a “tax.”