"He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left."
Matthew 25:33

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Black robes and powdered wigs

I am posting this article written by Phil Krinkie. He gave me permission during a recent phone conversation. It was published in the Saint Paul Legal Ledger on Monday, January 22, 2007. It is a great article from a great gentleman.

Phil Krinkie is a former Republican state representative from Lino Lakes. The eight-term lawmaker chaired the House Tax Committee and two other house panels.

He fought for the common man, and when it came to tax increases, he was known as "Dr No."

He is now the President of The Taxpayer's League of Minnesota.

Black robes and powdered wigs

Phil Krinkie

During my tenure in the Minnesota House and now as a former member, I have always been perplexed by the demeanor of the Minnesota Senate. It probably goes back to our founding fathers and the Virginia House of Burgesses, where the House was the body of the people and the "upper body" was appointed. I guess 300 years doesn't change somethings.

Our state senators often seem disconnected or removed from the day-to-day life of average Minnesotans or one might say "not that connected to the real world." House members would often discuss ... What makes the Senate so different? We would speculate ... Is it that they are a smaller, more collegial body? Perhaps it is their four-year term, rather than facing the voters every other year. Maybe it's the three-plus decades of having only one party control the body. Or, is the simple explanation that the word "representative" is an adjective and the word "senator" is a noun? The bottom line is that anyone who has spent time around the Legislature knows the Senate is different.

In my mind, the best explanation of this "Senate demeanor" came a dozen years ago when Rep. Tom Rukavina, from Virginia Minn., proclaimed during a House committee hearing, If we gave the state senators black robes and powdered wigs, they would wear them."

Twelve years have passed and the individuals who comprise the Minnesota Senate may have changed, but their swagger and aloofness is still the same.

During the first two weeks of the 2007 legislative session, the Minnesota Senate has again demonstrated that it is out of touch with the people it serves. The bills that were introduced in the first week show how out of step the DFL-controlled Senate is with its core of constituents.

The legislative session is starting out with a $2 billion budget surplus, but that is not enough. In the first week alone, they introduced a sales tax increase, a wheelage tax increase, a vehicle registration increase, and of course a gas tax increase. Wow, I can hardly wait for their tax bill!

What do these bills all have in common beside the fact that they all increase revenue? these tax increases are all regressive -- taxes that fall in a greater proportion on lower income wage earners than those with higher incomes. Bottom line for the Senate -- $2 billion is not enough; let's tax the poor.

Yes, the group that claims to speak for the poor and disadvantaged proposes to increase at least five taxes that will result in less disposable income for those who can afford it the least.

But to add insult to injury, one has to look no further than the arrogance of their per diem increase. In one of it's first orders of business, the Senate passed an increase in it's daily expense reimbursement of 45 percent, up to $96 each day.

The Democrats talk about adding inflation to the budget. Well, at 45 percent, they certainly did! Compare this increase to what the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to do, raising the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour -- an increase of $2.10 per hour. If passed into law, a minimum wage earner working 40 hours a week would receive an additional $84 each week. A Minnesota state senator could now receive up to an additional $210 each week just for meals -- and that is in addition to the $31,500 salary. Of course they took this action in committee without a vote of the full Senate -- what courage.

Should state senators earn more than minimum wage? Of course they should. But who are they really concerned about? Their actions out of the gate in 2007 would illustrate they are more concerned about their own wallets than that of average Minnesotans.

Rukavina had it right when he pointed out that our senators are a self-indulgent and self-centered group, so they may as well dress the part. Bring out the black robes and powered wigs!

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