Our view: Amendments show how legislators pass buck

/ 6 March 2012 / jennifer

St. Cloud Times Editorial, March 6, 2012 –

Already on the 2012 Election Day ballot will be Minnesota’s controversial constitutional marriage amendment. Standing a good chance of joining it is a proposed amendment on Voter ID. Plus, there are a handful of other proposals being seriously considered for our state constitution.

Virtually all deal with policy issues, which begs simply why?

In a state with 201 legislators and a governor to make policy, why in recent times have obvious policy questions come to be answered via constitutional amendments?

With all due respect to elected officials from both sides of the aisle, nothing speaks more of their partisan loyalties than this penchant to push for amendments instead of compromising on policies.

And be honest: Recent amendments — already passed or just proposed — are largely focused on specific policies and agendas.

For example, most amendments put forth the past two decades have little to do with a constitution’s foundational role of setting government structure, delegating or limiting government power and protecting rights of Minnesotans.

The marriage amendment is a classic example. There already is a law (policy) in place. Similarly, the results sought from a Voter ID amendment could be achieved through legislation — again, policy.

Then there is the Legacy Amendment sales tax, passed as an amendment in 2008. Gamesmanship among legislators and a governor resulted in using the Constitution not just to raise taxes, but to let legislators avoid making tough spending decisions for 25 years.

If that’s not political avoidance of making public policy, what is?

Oh, don’t forget the 2006 amendment requiring all motor vehicle sales tax revenues be spent on highways and transit projects. Of course, in that case legislators had ignored their own policies for years and used those revenues to pay for other state programs. It took this amendment to make them follow their own policy. Go figure.

Ultimately, the take-no-prisoners mentality of today’s political culture clearly has a huge impact on pushing for amendments when you can’t get your way on policy matters. But amending the state’s constitution shows it’s been going on for four decades.

The state constitution was adopted Oct. 13, 1857. It was not until 1974 that it underwent general revisions. But starting in 1980, it’s been amended in nine elections. Will 2012 mark the 10th time?

Regardless, it seems Minnesota’s partisan legislators have discovered an easy out for them on specific policy dilemmas: Instead of deciding for themselves or having to compromise, let the people take them off the hook.