Capitol Watch

The Center’s new newsletter calls out politicians who waste the Legislature’s time and taxpayers’ money.

In February, the Center launched a new project called Capitol Watch. This project is our effort to keep an eye on what our elected representatives are doing in St. Paul and to hold them accountable. It includes a website, MNCapitolWatch.com, and a weekly email. (If you are not already getting Capitol Watch emails, you can subscribe by emailing Pari.Cariaga@MNCapitolWatch.com.)

The website and email have three sections. The first is “just the facts.” It includes headline legislative news and information about important bills that are working their way through committees. A few examples of what we have reported on include Governor Walz’s proposed budget and its “war on cars,” featuring a 70 percent increase in the gas tax; the Office of Legislative Auditor’s explosive report on fraud in the Child Care Assistance Program; the extraordinary costs and ineffectiveness (from a climate change perspective) of proposed “green” legislation; Governor Walz’s effort to block the environmentally friendly Enbridge pipeline project; and much more.

The second section is called Capitol Follies. It documents, and mocks, foolish things that go on at the Capitol. These include pointless legislation—one of my favorites was a resolution urging President Trump not to start a nuclear war— wasteful spending, and so on.

Capitol Follies have included bills for tax credits for installing a sauna; government payments for damage done by beavers and wild turkeys; and a requirement that the annual budget forecast include, along with the forecast of economic growth, a “genuine progress indicator.” Also to be computed are “the value of services from social capital, including the value of leisure time, unpaid labor, and internet services,” “the value of services from built capital, including the value of transportation, water, and household infrastructure,” and “the social costs of economic activity, including the costs of homelessness, underemployment, crime, commuting, and vehicle accidents.” The University of Minnesota would be paid $200,000 annually to puzzle over how to come up with those numbers.

The public generally believes that state government involves a considerable amount of foolishness, and the public is right. At Capitol Watch, we name names and call out politicians who waste the legislature’s time and taxpayers’ money.

Capitol Watch concludes with A Little Birdie Told Me. Here we include stories that Capitol insiders are talking about that have not (yet) attained the status of news. “Little Birdie” items have included, for example, evidence of a distressing lack of civility in legislative committee hearings; a change in committee structure under the new DFL House leadership that confers vast power on the House Ways and Means Committee; an apparent rift between Governor Tim Walz and the DFL’s biggest supporter, Education Minnesota; and a change in the legislative calendar to include weekend sessions in response to the fact that almost midway through this year’s session, only two bills had actually reached the governor’s desk.

We have long been critical of the manner in which Minnesota’s legislature operates. Legislators generally begin each session without a meaningful plan. Much time is wasted in the session’s early months, leaving important decisions to be made—if at all—in the middle of the night during the session’s last days.

Voters and taxpayers need a gimlet-eyed third party to follow what goes on in St. Paul, critically evaluate the work of both political parties, and expose inappropriate procedures and useless or damaging legislation to the light of day. This is what the Center does through Capitol Watch. We hope you will find our bulletins both informative and, occasionally, amusing.