Hopkins Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-District 44) blames legislative delays on Republicans caught between campaign rhetoric and political realities.
In a reversal of fortune, Republicans now face criticism for moving too slow on the budget process. DFLers point out that last year’s House and Senate both passed budget plans by the end of this week in the session. Just a little over a month ago, DFL lawmakers said the GOP was moving too fast to pass bills limiting the scope of government.
Latz noted that the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, on which he serves, passed its omnibus-spending bill and appointed conference committee members April 11. Its House counterpart appointed conferees April 14. Yet the conference committee hasn’t met—even if just to approve the provisions on which the two chambers agree.
“I think it’s a level of competence that’s lacking,” Latz said.
Most of those conference committees that have met haven’t done anything more than review the bills.
Latz said the GOP is split between realists who are willing to get things done and what he called “ideological zealots” who won’t budge from their agenda. The root of the problem is that they campaigned on making cuts that, in the end, are deeper than the public can accept.
“They can’t implement their own agenda in good conscience,” he said.
He also said the Republican budget plan is “internally inconsistent” and relies on about $1 billion of “phony money.”
The GOP and DFL disagree about how to calculate budget figures. Minnesota traditionally relies on so-called “fiscal notes” calculated by Minnesota Management and Budget. Republicans rejected those numbers, saying that in some cases they don’t trust figures put forward by agencies under the governor.
“Four Firkins bill”
Despite taking a blow in a Senate committee recently, the legislation that would allow liquor stores to sell store-branded merchandise, such as T-shirts, is in “really good shape,” according to Hopkins Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 44A), who authored the House version of the bill.
The so-called “Four Firkins bill”—which got rolling after Jason Alvey, owner of St. Louis Park craft beer store The Four Firkins, approached Simon and Latz earlier this year—was not included in the Senate’s omnibus liquor bill last week. It has been included in the House version, meaning a conference committee will have to sort out the differences.
“Whenever it comes to some kind of omnibus bill, as long as you’re in one of the bills, you’re in great shape,” Simon said. “Unless there is some principled reason why the Senate will not accept the House’s position, it is my prediction—and my hope, certainly—that we’re going to be able to get this done.”
Simon said he suspects that opposition from the Minnesota Grocers Association, including a critical letter sent to the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, was what initially held the bill back. Jamie Pfuhl, the association’s president, wrote that it would be unfair to allow liquor stores to sell merchandise while grocery stores are limited in the alcohol they can sell.
“This bill creates a slippery slope," Pfuhl added, "that turns liquor stores into general merchandise stores without offering anyone the ability to expand into liquor retailing.”
But Latz said he’s “awfully disappointed” that the majority party wouldn’t accept a proposal that would help business without any cost.
The two omnibus bills are expected to come up for full votes in the House and Senate in the next few weeks.