Community Issues Candidate Forum – Part I

Where are we headed?” That is the most important question I rhetorically asked voters attending the Community issues forum at Carleton College’s AGH on Thursday night (see Ray’s blog). The biggest issue facing us in the coming legislative session is, once again, a large looming deficit. The State economist’s rosiest prediction is that we face a $1.5 billion deficit, and it likely will be worse. State agencies, schools and state-funded non-profits are all bracing for another round of cuts. Governor Pawlenty’s ‘no tax’ solution is no solution because it did not solve our budget woes, it only camouflaged the depth of the problem and shifted responsibilities from state to local governments, from the wealthiest of the wealthy to the middle class. Pawlenty is the first Governor in history to try to solve a budget downturn with cuts and spending shifts alone. Even former Governors from his own party object to this strategy, wanting a more balanced approach.

How is it that Rep. Ray Cox can say with confidence that things are just fine, there are no problems and the taxes that working people pay will bring us out of the budget crisis? When do the taxes of loophole finding corporations, passive income recipients, personal property taxes of utilities too often exempted, sin taxes, or gas taxes come into the equation. I think he’s out of touch with the impacts of the economic downturn, budget cuts and Republican policies on working people, and it’s not reasonable that working people bear this burden.

Misrepresentation – Ray Cox voted AGAINST JOBZ, he did NOT support it

Ray Cox is making misrepresentations about his voting record. At the forum, Ray was touting the JOBZ program. In his blog about the forum, he says:

When people are working they are not using or requiring high levels of state social programs, they feel good about their lives and they are working to support their families and lifestyle. With more Minnesotans working now than any other time in history more people are funding their own family and personal needs. Creating good jobs, through programs like the Job Opportunity Building Zone program, is the best type of social support system we can have.( 8/20/04

His blog earlier featured other positive words about JOBZ, implying his support:

I totally agree with Governor Pawlenty about the impact of JOB Zone businesses. The potential for more and better jobs is unlimited. And many of these businesses will grow and expand, requiring new facilities to be constructed creating additional construction and maintenance jobs into the future. As long as Minnesota remains friendly to business and doesn’t create a difficult climate to do business we can hope to see more job growth 8/11/04.

And two days before that, on August 9, 2004, he blogged this statement:

As one would expect, particular issues commented on range from farming and taxes to schools and jobs. I had several people thank me for my support of the JOBZ and Racino legislation. As one constituent pointed out, it is important for the Lonsdale area to keep Canterbury Park financially healthy to continue sales of hay, vet services, feed, etc. to the horses. Racino is one way to keep people coming to Canterbury.

But the most striking example of misrepresentation of his JOBZ position is found in his “2004 Legislative Report,” where Rep. Cox has this to say about jobs:


Representative Cox supported Governor Tim Pawlenty’s Job Opportunity Building Zone (JOBZ)Program, which is already showing dramatic results – 300 jobs at a turkey processing plant in Marshall, 200 jobs in Albert Lea at a pork processing plant, and 150 jobs in Luverne at a card processing facility. In April, more than 1,500 additional jobs were projected as a result of JOBZ zones. Northfield, Lonsdale, and Faribault also have land designated under this initiative. Cox also supported policies that allow more businesses and entrepreneurs to start up companies and grow jobs in Minnesota.

Ray Cox’s statement that he supported JOBZ is false. He voted against the Bill.
Here’s the JOBZ bill cite:

Here’s the House Research Summary (it’s one long bill)

Here’s the Roll Call Vote (scroll way down, at the very bottom) that shows that Ray Cox voted against JOBZ:

So do Ray Cox’s votes show efforts to protect workers, provide training, good wages and stimulate job growth? How has Ray Cox voted on employment issues? Here are a few examples:

HF 748 House Jobs and Economic Finance Bill (2003) Ray Cox voted to cut 15.5% out of budget – $334 million v. $393 million.

Ray voted for it – I would not vote for this unamended.

– Mahoney amendment – in an effort to fund the Apprenticeship Program by not hiring assistant and deputy Commissioners and using those funds for program Mahoney moved to amend HF 748.

Ray voted against the amendment, and I would have voted for it.

HF 967 Jobs, Ag & Environment Finance Bill (2003) In the ultimate budget bill, Ray Cox voted for the bill that cuts 17% out of the base, including $53 million from job-training, housing and community development.

Ray Cox, and also Jeff Anderson in 27B, another district at risk for Steve Sviggum, voted against it, but there were enough Republican votes to pass. I would not have voted for this unamended.

HF 749, which became SS HF1 – State Government Finance Omnibus Budget Bill – Ray Cox voted for this bill, which included a wage freeze for state workers, declaration of 3.400 health care non-professionals as “essential employees” and thereby prohibited them from striking, put entire 18% increase of cost of employee health care coverage on state employees, and removed requirement that state must look within state employees prior to going outside and contracting for services.

I would not have voted for it unamended.
Ray did vote on an amendment to HF 749 bill that would have had an impact on jobs, well, a few legislators’ jobs at least.

Lenczewski attempted to limit influence peddling by offering an amendment banning legislators from becoming lobbyists until 12 months had passed since they left office. If this bill were in place in 2002, it would have had a local impact, because John Tuma would not have been able to go through the revolving door, leaving the legislature to become Chief Lobbyist for Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Ray voted against this amendment, and I would have voted for it.

Training and educational opportunities were decreased under Republican leadership. HF 1568 (in Conference see HF 772)- Omnibus Higher Education Finance Bill. This bill cut the University’s budget by $191.5 million and the MnSCU budget by $176 million, an average of approximately 15%.

Ray voted for these severe reductions that resulted in another round of double digit tuition increases. I would have opposed this bill.

There were more educational and training cuts.

HF 2028 – Senate Supplementary Budget Balancing Bill. In this bill, the House considered Senate proposals to add, among other things, funding for grants for nursing students, National Guard reenlistment bonuses, National Guard tuition reimbursement and supplements for K-12 Education and Higher Education.

Ray voted against this bill, and I would have voted for it.

This one is hard to believe.

HF 102 – Minimum Wage Increase (2004) This bill would have raised the minimum wage to $6.65 on July 1, 2005. Someone working full time at this wage would gross $1,143.80 per month.

Ray voted against this increase in minimum wage, and I would have voted for it.

Like many of his fellow Republicans, Ray talks about supporting job growth, supporting economic development, but as noted above, he has voted against many simple but necessary methods of providing good jobs – through training and education, higher wages, insurance benefits. That list does not even address the many cuts to job training programs, post secondary education, failed attempts to hire Workers’ Compensation judges, to name a few. We have experienced two very harsh legislative sessions that I’ll explore in greater depth in future blogs.

Ray and I were asked about recent test results for Charter schools and Rep. Cox, who has promoted state tests, which reduce school district local control, said he felt using the tests at Charter schools is not appropriate. I responded by explaining that the tests and the No Child Left Behind initiative unfairly judge schools and mislead the public about a school’s performance. The StarTribune recently had and interesting article on this topic. (Lagging schools list may double) Ray Cox was a strong supporter of standards ( – p. 20 of 25) and was a co-author of HF 2 to replace the Profile of Learning with standards that comply with NCLB. Unfortunately, Ray did not include any allowance for his belief that the tests were not appropriate for charter schools in the bill, and he did not include a provision for different standards for schools that operate differently than traditional schools, such as charter schools and alternative schools. Because he promoted the testing without exemptions, charter schools and alternative schools are subject to the standards tests. I would work to include such a provision because they are a different type of school by definition, and I support Minnesota withdrawing from participation in NCLB.

What about the well-being of our well-being? Two years ago Minnesota was ranked the most livable state. We earned that ranking by hard work and decades of consistent investment in our ‘common wealth’. It represents a tradition of working together for the common good, reflected in our Health and Human Services priorities. Like many of his fellow Republicans, Ray talks about supporting human services but he actively participated in funding shifts, cuts and elimination of funding for programs that help people in need.

At the forum, Ray spoke of his support for human services programs, saying if there is a need for them they should be funded but failed to say how he would fund them. He also spoke of support for private programs and provision of social services by “the community” If he is not one of those ‘no new taxes stereotypes,’ he should step forward and clarify how these needed services will be provided and funded, or explain what programs will be cut or eliminated so that these services will be provided. He claimed to have voted against Health and Human services Budget (Special Session HF6. the final 2003 bill that so severely cut the Health and Human Services budget but a check of the “recorded roll call floor votes” indicates other wise – Ray Cox did vote for Special Session HF6).

According to the House Journal (page no. Ss771), Ray supported the 2003 Health and Human services bill that the St. Paul Pioneer Press said contained, “the deepest cuts to health and human services in state history and will substantially affect thousands of Minnesotans from the womb to the grave.” Direct state payments to hospitals are reduced by $38 million that will trigger an additional loss of $24 million in federal funding. The bill increases the state nursing home surcharge that is used to generate additional federal funding; triggering a $2,025 increase in the annual rates charged to private pay nursing facilities. Also state Medical Assistance payments are reduced, costing nursing homes $100 million in lost revenue. The bill repeals an expansion of the Minnesota Senior Drug Program that would have allowed more seniors to purchase drugs at a reduced rate. He also voted for a 15% reduction in funding for Senior Nutrition Programs resulting in 135,000 fewer meals for seniors.

In the 2004 session, it was more of the same, where Ray Cox co-authored the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill (HF 1681 Journal of the House p. 6418) that slashed beyond 2003.

In a recent Faribault Daily News letter to the editor, Ray Cox has been touted by a supporter as being a “friend of nursing homes,” which is true, in that he co-authored a number of bills that provided benefits to nursing homes – but that hurt nursing home residents — bills that limited damages an injured resident or patient could received from a long-term care provider (HF 2471), co-authored bills to revise apportionment of joint and several liability as discussed at the nursing home forum in 2002 (HF 429) and to limit civil actions against nursing homes, prohibit use of government data, non-economic damages and shorten statute of limitation for suits (HF 610); co-authored a bill making standards and regulatory requirements more favorable to nursing facilities (HF 491). This is another case of using high nursing home insurance payments as justification to limit civil actions by injured parties, not mindful that insurance premiums are increasing primarily because consumers are bearing the brunt of the market downturn, that insurance companies are not making as much on their market investments as they used to, just like the rest of us, but now we’re paying for it. “Tort Reform” is a very important Republican agenda item, and these bills fall right in step.

I stressed that we have to look at other than wage earners, working people struggling to get by, and three of the options I outlined are:

1) Closing corporate loopholes, which Ray did vote for in the Hilty amendment to HF 749, a good vote. Corporate profits are up, but revenue from corporations to state coffers is down. Rep. Ron Abrams, chair of tax committee has said that this is something that urgently needs to be fixed. I would make this a very high priority, because these loopholes have to be closed so that we know where we are. After that is fixed, we look to other means of increasing revenue.

2) Turn back the tax cuts given to the wealthiest Minnesotans in recent years so that they pay their fair share.

3) Reverse the shift in school funding from the state to local governments, who then have no option other than to scramble and chase levy referendums in search of unexpected holes in their budgets. Look at what happened with school finance when the state assumed responsibility for school funding. At a recent forum, Rep. Rukavina said that the adjustments made resulted in wealthy School Districts like Edina, that had not previously relied on State funding because of their strong tax base, were now given money that would have gone to needy districts under the old scheme. And we know what is happening in the Minneapolis Public Schools. This should be fixed.

Another topic was the cost of healthcare. Again, generally, both Ray and I agreed that this is a major problem facing citizens. It affects budgets everywhere from small businesses to schools and state, local governments and the budgets in each of our homes .

The Minnesota Department of planning now under Administration estimates that health care costs Minnesotans $19 billion per year. The average Minnesota household currently pays $11,000 per year in premiums, out-of-pocket costs and taxes for health care. Health care costs affect the cost of goods in this country too. Automakers pay $1400 for each car they make to provide health insurance to their employees (Health&Medicine Week 6/21/2004 p.2) and as with most businesses those costs are passed on to consumers.

A recent Dartmouth study (Health&Medicine Week 6/21/2004) showed that nearly a third of the $1.6 trillion spent on health care in America fails to improve health or goes to duplicative care.

Minnesota has been a leader in trying to offer healthcare insurance to citizens and yet 38,000 lost coverage as a result of the cuts in the health and human services budget. More and more folks are choosing to go without health coverage because it costs too much for the coverage they get and yet they pay three times as much for services because insurance companies negotiate for a better price.

Why do Americans pay so much more for health care than citizens in other countries? Perhaps it’s related to the outrageous salaries some top executives are paid. United Health Care pays their top executive $92 million and the six top executives a total of $200 million annually. Pharmaceuticals get 18% of the health care dollars and have hired 650 lobbyists and spent $450 million on lobbying, campaign contributions and public relations. How much more do we pay because the drug companies spend more on advertising than on research and development? Thirty cents of every health care dollar goes to administration, and that is by far too much. Medica and Blue Cross made too much profit last year and was required to give some back, and yet raised their premiums again anyway. One way Minnesota could change this equation by limiting the types of expenses that could be deducted as “normal operating expenses,” for example those expenses that, as the Allina case came to light, made everyone groan.

Governor Pawlenty set up the Health Care Task Force of eminently qualified people to look at what could be done to hold back the rising cost of health care, but he forbade them from considering Universal coverage. Why?

At the forum Ray said that he opposed Education Minnesota’s proposal to put all teachers into one pooled health plan, which would have helped many districts ease the cost of health care coverage, and that he opposed it not because it was the wrong concept, but that it seemed unfair to those employed by the state, who wouldn’t be included. I don’t understand this reasoning. Although some districts with above-average coverage would lose comparatively, it seems to me that if we support the concept of employee pools, we have to start somewhere. We need to take steps that move us in that direction and expand to other groups as time and political will allowed.

Or is political will the problem? Inaction and ineffective or exacerbating action on big issues like healthcare and insurance coverage that affect nearly everyone is one reason voters are discouraged. We need to enact bold solutions to the problems we face.

Another questioner at Thursday’s Forum asked about our position on purchasing of drugs from Canada, and we both agreed that it is at best a short term fix but should be allowed because it helps those who are forced to make tough decisions based on the high cost of their prescription drugs in this country. Because I support universal health care, under which this prescription drug quandary would be addressed. I think it’s time to take decisive steps.

Something I intended to cover, but did not get to in my two minute introduction, was campaign practices, campaign finance, and fair and clean political campaigns. Once more, for the record, I signed the Fair and Clean Elections Pledge (FACE) in July, 2002 and distributed copies of that document at the Granny D and FACE rally, and I pledge to abide by the League of Women Voters Compact. There is no “pledge” to sign, but I firmly agree to abide by the principles of the Compact planks. The terms are available on their website. Disclaimer: When I pledge to abide by the LWV Compact planks, it is in no way an endorsement by the LWV, a non-partisan organization.

There are many election related issues that Ray and I differ on. I strongly support same-day registration and he has gone on record opposing it. Regarding election issues contained or proposed in the 2003 Secretary of State Elections Bill (HF 1119), I strongly oppose requiring college students to have a student ID when registering to vote. Ray voted for this requirement. I strongly support the right of someone who does not (cannot, will not) answer an election judge’s questions and who leaves the voting site, and then returning willing and able to answer, to not be denied the right to vote, as they are now. I also strongly support excusing high school students to vote, deeming election judges as notaries for purposes of making complaints under the Help America Vote Act, and I strongly want to assure that someone whose absentee ballot arrives late is not removed from the voter registration list, and most importantly, I strongly support limitation of the Secretary of State’s authority to remove names from the voter registration list, as was and is being done in Florida. Ray was against all of these amendments to HF119.

In the 2004 State Government Supplemental Finance Bill (HF 2684), which passed the House but did not become law, there were other amendments where I would vote differently than Ray. I strongly oppose Speaker Sviggum’s amendment to ban tribes from making political contributions. Ray Cox supported the Speaker’s position rather than his Republican cohort Dempsey who offered the amendment to delete. And for the record, and which my campaign reports reveal, I have not received tribal PAC contributions (For the record, I also do not support the Racino as a state revenue source, but that’s another blog). I strongly support the Goodwin amendment lowering the reporting threshold for political contributions from $500 to $100, and that the campaign finance public subsidy statutory appropriation be fully funded, both of which promote openness and fairness. Ray Cox voted against both of these amendments.

And speaking of push polling, Rep. Mariani offered an amendment requiring push pollers to disclose entity that commissioned the poll and whether candidate authorized the poll. It’s odd, but Speaker Sviggum, Ray Cox and Lynda Boudreau all voted against this amendment. Jeff Anderson, the 27B Republican incumbent voted FOR it! District 27B is the other district that Speaker Sviggum is concerned about, he sent the threatening letter to Jeanne Poppe about her “Popsicles in the Park” and had a dump press conference there just like the one he had here! If they were so concerned about push polls, if they really believed that the DFL would do that, wouldn’t they demand disclosure up front and vote for Rep. Mariani’s amendment?

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