Dear Citizen Spin:
What is the root cause (and solution) to the current K-12 funding problems? After so many years of school budget tightening and intense public scrutiny, I can't believe inefficiency is the root. My suspicion is the reallocation of funds toward special education is part of the problem along with mandated programs from both federal and state levels.
How much would our taxes need to go up to return to the olden days of schools paying for extracurricular activities? How much more do we need to fund appropriate class sizes?
Being at or below the public average in understanding public school finance it is impossible for me to have informed input towards any solution. - S.S., Park Rapids
We may have to call in the punter for this question, because your citizen hasn't an adequate answer. Inadequate special education funding combined with the mandates you cite probably account for part of the problem in some districts. Yet, given the wide variance in the pressures districts face, it's probably safe to say there are a whole lot of reasons for the situation, and they vary from district to district.
What's wrong with K-12 funding is an answer that's a moving target. Those who think too much money is spent on special education, probably don't have a special education student. Those who think enough money isn't being spent on the band, probably have a child who plays music. What is it we want from our education system? The lack of a single answer to that question makes an answer to the initial question impossible.
It's like going to a car dealer and asking how much a car will cost without saying exactly what model you're looking for and what you want in it. Put that situation in an arena of 201 legislators, and you can see why K-12 funding is such a debate.
Week of February 25, 2002
Dear Citizen Spin:
Question: What is at the heart of the budget debate? M.L. Minneapolis
As with so many things at the Capitol these days, some compelling issues with no easy answers are lost in the bluster of rhetoric. Citizen Spin has not yet decided what the best solution is to the mess, but thinks the merits of the positions of both the Legislature and Gov. Ventura are legitimate.
Gov. Ventura doesn't want to spend down the "rainy day" fund that Gov. Carlson and the Legislature built up during the boom times. He prefers a combination of cuts and taxes. The Legislature doesn't want to raise taxes and wants to use the "rainy day" fund to avoid taxes and more severe cuts; pointing out that it's raining.
When is the best time to save for a rainy day? When it's sunny? When it's raining? Both? Citizen Spin notes that when Gov. Ventura was running for office, he lambasted the Legislature for not giving the surplus back. One of the reasons the surplus wasn't being given back, is because a bunch of it was being stashed for a rainy day.
On the other hand, Ventura is worried that the lawmakers will use duct tape to plug a torpedo-sized hole, something to hold long enough to get re-elected, when - the theory goes - there won't be such a reluctance to raise taxes.
But that very compelling - and very productive - debate is lost in Ventura's allegations that those who disagree with him are "unpatriotic."
In the House's failure to override the governor's veto of the budget fix, House DFLers have little to cling to but whatever benefit they get from the "we wouldn't let education suffer" stance, an odd benefit given that whatever comes next will almost surely result in deeper cuts to education.
Whatever cooperation the House and Senate had to this point will likely disappear - at least in the short term - amid the usual stand-off over tax increases. House Republicans are unlikely to budge on this issue, leading the possibility that lawmakers might just take Ventura's threat for unilateral cuts. If that happens, the question becomes: Who's taking whose bait?
Week of February 18, 2002
Dear Citizen Spin:
Question: Can you really trust a politician? L.V., Eagan
Citizen Spin is hurt, actually, that you would serve up such a softball with the apparent idea that I would want to hit it. Citizen Spin recommends that all citizens of Minnesota stop visiting the Capitol during the daytime, and go at night. You'll almost always find at least one committee having a meeting. Those people are husbands and wives, and fathers and mothers, who are sacrificing something in service to the rest of us. Your citizen can't be cynical enough to believe that there are no good motives to be found beneath the Capitol dome.
Citizen Spin hears those talk show hosts who make a good living first labelling, then criticizing those with the labels and, sure, politicians make themselves easy targets. But it would be good to examine this attitude toward politicians and ask ourselves whether there isn't something we can do that is a little more constructive. Sure, some politicians drive us absolutely nuts; but some measure of respect is still in order.
Citizen Spin sees a lot of American flags flying these days, and hears more than a few people criticizing politicians without doing much more to be involved. One, it seems to me, isn't compatible with the other.
Question: What difference does it make when the governor gets a budget bill? D.L., Virginia
The breathless coverage of Roger Moe knocking on the governor's door, or somebody else clanging on the gate to the governor's mansion is a good indicator, Citizen Spin thinks, that we've reached that point in the legislative session where people at the Capitol have gotten too caught up in the process.
Sure, the budget shortfall is a big deal, but the effect on the rest of us of when the governor got the budget deal is negligible. It only affects the possibility of public opinion, and often that's a pretty big deal for those jockeying to benefit.
If Gov. Ventura was playing cat-and-mouse - and he says he wasn't - the only reason would be to allow him another day next week for a putrid revenue forecast to come out before he has to sign it. That way, if he vetoed it, he could say, "See? I told you this bill isn't the answer." He would then count on public opinion to pressure lawmakers into making a better deal.
Some lawmakers, on the other hand, probably wouldn't mind having Gov. Ventura on the record vetoing a bill that doesn't raise taxes - yet - in order to get one that does. Either way, the economy is still in the dumpster, and people are still losing jobs. There's nothing in any solution being debated at the Capitol right now that changes that.
Dear Citizen Spin:
Question: Do you think the majority of the Minnesota legislators have a good laugh at the expense of Jesse Ventura just about every day of the week? They're so system-conscience, he's not. Certainly they must think he's the ultimate buffoon, especially now that his popularity ratings have tanked. P.W., Eagan
Legislators have a strong reaction to Ventura, but laughter isn't one of them. They recognize his importance in the process of legislating; he can't be ignored or laughed away. That said, there's no love lost between legislative leadership and Ventura. They disdain his tendency to portray everything as "good" vs. "evil." Afterall, Ventura's first campaign commercial in 1998 referred to everyone in the Capitol as "arrogant S.O.B's." Ventura is not schooled in compromise and, thus, the tension.
Ventura's popularity is puzzling. His numbers stayed flat, though impressive, after Sept. 11 when most politicians' popularity was rising. He was elected with about a third of the vote, on the strength of young, first-time voters and disaffected DFLers.
Assuming, and Citizen Spin is not protected from incorrect assumptions, Ventura's lost a large measure of support among young people because of his various views on the role of government in education, and that he's lost some of the disaffected DFLers, how was he able to maintain his popularity? Clearly, Ventura has attracted new supporters since his election. Citizen Spin guesses Ventura is pulling more older, slightly-less-conservative than the GOP leadership voters. Lawmakers are too busy trying to figure out what that means to have a good laugh.
Ventura is riding his anti-government horse for all its worth. That was a risky strategy after Sept. 11 when even the most hardened anti-government interests had their hands out looking for a government payoff. But normalcy is returning. Citizen Spin also suggests you listen very closely when people announce their intention to run for governor. Seldom are they speaking of their primary election competition, instead they invoke Gov. Ventura's name. The road to the corner office still runs through Ventura. If anyone were laughing, they'd be ignoring him. They're not.