This morning, Judge Lezlie Ott Mareck will hear the lawsuit Jim Knoblach, former chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, filed challenging the constitutionality of Sen. Bakk’s Omnibus Tax Bill. Specifically, Chairman Knoblach’s lawsuit argues that the 2013 Tax Bill violates Article IV, Sect. 17, informally known as the Single Subject Clause. Article IV, Section 17 states that bills can only be about a single subject.
For example, if the plain letter of the law is followed, it would be unconstitutional for a bill funding veterans programs to also include tax increases to raise money for Minnesota’s general fund. Funding veterans programs obviously is a different subject than setting marginal income tax rates.
The purpose of the Single Subject Clause is clear through this. Minnesota’s Constitution was written to prevent people from putting an unpopular provision on one subject into a popular bill of another subject.
Chairman Knoblach’s attorney, Erick A. Kaardal, stated the purpose of this lawsuit clearly when he said this:
Believing that a separate bill could not have survived the scrutiny of both houses, or taxpayer wrath, the leadership simply avoided the state constitution, rules of both houses and responsible fiscal policy and put the senate office measure within the tax bill that had to pass to balance the budget within the last days of the 2013 session.
Kaardal is exactly right on each part of his statement. Sen. Bakk knew that a standalone bill building a Taj Majal monument to Sen. Bakk wouldn’t pass the House. That’s why he put the funding in the Tax Bill. He knew Speaker Thissen wouldn’t torpedo his provision in that context.
Next, Kaardal is right that a standalone bill would’ve incurred the taxpayers’ wrath. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if taxpayers took out their wrath on DFL legislators this time if they find out about Sen. Bakk’s gimmick.
Third, Sen. Bakk’s gimmick attempts to skirt the Single Subject Clause. That doesn’t guarantee the courts reaching the right ruling. It just says that they’ll rule against Sen. Bakk’s gimmick if they follow Minnesota’s Constitution. FOOTNOTE: If Judge Mareck rules against Sen. Bakk, that will essentially finish Sen. Bakk’s funding for what I’m calling the “Politicians’ Pork Palace.” There isn’t a chance Sen. Bakk will want to appeal that ruling because that will raise the profile of the lawsuit. That’s the last thing Sen. Bakk wants to do going into a political campaign.
Finally, Sen. Bakk knew that his gimmick wasn’t popular. That’s why he didn’t propose it earlier in the session. Had it been proposed in February as a standalone bill, it wouldn’t have passed any committees because of the toxic nature of the bill. That’s why he’s attempting this end run around Minnesota’s Constitution.
Sen. Bakk is a nasty man when it comes to ignoring the Constitution:
Recent laws struck down under this single subject provision include:
1) a prevailing wage provision authored by then Rep. Tom Bakk in the 1997 Omnibus Tax Bill (Associated Builders and Contractors v. Ventura; Minnesota Supreme Court, 2000);
Apparently, trusting that Sen. Bakk will follow the Constitution isn’t a safe bet. The courts have already ruled that he ignored this same provision before. Apparently, Sen. Bakk just won’t learn.