I have fond memories of playing “kick the can” as a child. Minnesota’s political class, however, shows that it’s a great game for adults, too.

The phrase “kick the can” has become so used in Minnesota budget discussions as to become a cliche. But it’s true. We’ve already delayed payments to schools. We relied on federal stimulus money, which is now gone. We increased a “tax that is not a tax except when it needs to be a tax to defend it in court” (the “health impact fee” on a pack of smokes).

Now we’re going to delay payments to schools, again, and raid the tobacco lawsuit money. (As I understand it, the state will take money it is expected to receive over the coming years and spend it now.)

To use another cliche that is popular these days, Minnesota is doubling down. We’re delaying reforms (again) in hopes that future events will turn favorable. What “favorable” means depends on your political inclinations, but it includes the following possibilities: (a) the economy and hence tax receipts will revive enough to fill in the gap once the one-time money is gone; (b) we will somehow find an agreement on how to cut operating expense enough; or (c) it will become politically palatable to raise taxes to keep projected spending growth going. For the last two bienniums, then, we have “fixed” the present problem by making the final resolution of the problem more difficult and painful down the road.

Republican leaders in the Legislature were under pressure from their supporters and their beliefs to constrain the growth of spending. Perhaps they got the best deal they could have; after all, it’s hard to control government if you don’t hold the veto pen or a supermajority.

Going forward, I’d like to refer you to an essay written by Sean Kershaw, of the Citizens League. He writes, in part, “The pragmatic solutions to our policy problems will need to be created in all institutions — not just government.” I like that idea. He’s referring to bringing more citizens into the discussion of public issues, which is fine. In addition, there’s a lot of room for making more use of our private-sector communities (businesses, associations, faith communities, families, and so forth).

Finally, we need reform in government. Rep. King Banaian’s HF2 is a good start (watch this short video description¬†of it). But we need more, starting with sunset commissions and changes in the two major budget areas, health care and public schools.

Since much of the ink spilled on this budget standoff has focused on the income tax, I also refer you to a commentary by Peter Nelson, of the Center of the American Experiment. It helps explain why, more than ever, income tax rates matter. Increasing the rates of the income tax code, whether at the top and or across-the-board, has limited value. It’s time to move beyond that–as well as kicking the can down the road.