Bly and Pie in the Park

We held our final “Bly and Pie in the Park” event in Northfield, at Way Park. A beautiful summer evening promoted conversation and good will. After serving up slices of pie, I visited and took questions from neighbors. Blueberry was by far the most popular pie, though apple and rhubarb were popular too. An interesting mix of faithful Democrats and interested voters asked questions about healthcare and education, and they expressed their concerns about how to get through the political impasse and get things done for people and frustration with the last legislative session.

I heard them voice strong regrets about the human services cuts and how hard it’s been on our most vulnerable residents. Several expressed concern about the unintended affects of NCLB and the effects on communities and relations with those learners who struggle in the system. Most want to see a better approach to assuring accountability and school reform.

Several asked, “When elected, what would you do differently in the House that would make a difference for House 25B voters?” I responded, “Number 1, I would not be casting my vote for Rep. Sviggum to be Speaker.” I went on to say that I would not vote to cut human services as my opponent did in both 2003 and 2004, and I would, where possible, vote to restore funding taken away in previous sessions. I also agreed with those concerned about NCLB, the federal education initiative that my opponent supports, and added that I am concerned about our whole education system, including early childhood, k12 and post secondary and what we are doing to our future. I agreed with one voter who said that in his years of teaching at St. Olaf, he knew that education funding is the future, and we have a responsibility to invest in it. I would vote to fund education, not cut funding or refuse to acknowledge increased costs education incurs due to inflation. We won’t feel the real repercussions of this for years to come, but unless we can turn back the trend to abandon public investment, the price will be higher than we can imagine..

What else would I do differently? I would not leave our schools, nursing homes and economic future to float on decreased revenues in the uncertain seas of the marketplace, where swells and flows leave devastation in their wake. I would not, as my opponent says, leave the tax burden for promoting the public good on working families. I would not co-author a bill that gives Excelsior Energy $10 million of state funds, the power of eminent domain, exemption from Certificate of Need review which allows them to produce energy that this state does not need using unproven coal gasification technology. Excelsior Energy, former Xcel lobbyists and an NRG executive, are involved in a high risk scheme which gobbles up public investment and takes us very far down the road in the wrong direction of energy development, and this project will prevent us from in renewable energy development. Why? Because with all the generation in this project, how will any other project be able to claim power is “needed?”

How would I get through the impasse? I believe in order to improve the climate of cooperation, we need to refocus legislators on the issues that state government needs to address to improve people’s lives and stop wasting time on social issues that get in the way of that goal and that polarize citizens and government. I would promote forums and venues for discussion that bring together representatives from both sides of the aisle to talk about what our goals should be for the state, find common ground and work together to make them happen.

Early in the day, House Speaker Sviggum and Minority leader Matt Entenza debated the future of Minnesota at the State Fair. Sviggum was heard down playing the deficit the state will face in coming years and making the outrageous claim that Democrats want to secure benefits for a few people while asking everyone to pay for it. He took the Republican agenda, promotion of the wealthy their friends at the expense of all the rest of us, and tried to foist it on Democrats. Thankfully the audience booed loudly at this outrageous claim.

The reality? Governor Pawlenty is the only Governor in history to attempt to solve a huge deficit problem with tax cuts alone. The state economist predicts that we will face a 1.5 billion dollar deficit in the coming session and that’s with the prediction that the economy will pick up. If not, we’re in even worse economic straits. If Pawlenty sticks to his “no new tax pledge,” I hate to think what will happen to schools, nursing home residents, public employees, and our infrastructure that supports all economic activity. And that does not address the large increase in fees, and as Matt Entenza noted Ronald Reagan had said, a fee is a tax. Pawlenty has dramatically increased regressive taxes, through increased fees, that regular people pay, fees for court filing fees, permits, etc.

As I said months ago when I began my 2004 campaign for the state legislature, we need to remind ourselves of the words of Hubert Humphrey, and “Dream big dreams.” I believe we need to set as our goal, that every Minnesota family has the ability to support itself with a wage earning job that will keep them from being dependent on the State for help. These means we must support wage improvement, education, and economic development that attract good jobs to Minnesota because we have the workforce that will not only work hard, but have the skills and know how to take on any kind of work. We have to support economic development that improves our communities tax base, not subsidizing so that costs transfer to the unsubsidized property owners.

We must reinvest in our education system and can only do this by bringing more revenue into the state and reviving state planning to make government more efficient. We need to close corporate loopholes that are robbing the state of revenue, and turn back tax cuts given to the wealthiest Minnesotans in the last five years. There is a list of additional taxes that should be considered from so called ‘sin taxes’ to the gas tax. We should make these changes in an above-board fashion and not just pass funding responsibilities to local units of government in stealth actions, which leaves them forced to propose levies and property tax increases..

How do we share the pie? That’s what we talked about last night, and it was an invigorating discussion. I’m ready to get to work!

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