Legislative Leadership Needed

I want to thank Rep. Cox for responding to my letter. However, I wish he had let voters know in his campaign literature that he believes little can be done to improve the funding situation for Minnesota schools, and that he won’t commit to advocate for our schools. He first claims that our health and human services expenditures are unsustainable, but then reveals his plans to increase the state’s share of contributions to facilities working with the mentally handicapped in his district, which will make it even worse!

Perhaps a number of voters voted for Rep. Cox because they hoped he would be true to his party and do very little. “The less government the better.” “Keep government off our backs,” they say. Perhaps some took him at his word when he said he was a different kind of Republican who would reach across the aisle to get things done for his constituents and for Minnesota. He said he was for education, the environment and healthcare. But what does that mean? Who would be against education, the environment, and healthcare? Yet we now learn there is nothing he can do, that he believes something should be done, but not by him. He does not believe it is his role to advocate, just to vote on whatever comes up, that “all 201 legislators have an equal amount of participation in the budget setting process.” It’s a sorry day for District 25B when we learn our Representative holds this limited view of his role and his abilities.

I had hoped he would seize the opportunity to do something for the Northfield School District. If not within his own party, why not reach across the aisle and find Democrats willing to draft a bill to responsibly fund the education spending that he states we need?

Rep. Cox says that Pawlenty’s is the largest budget ever and that government is spending more than it ever has. John Gunyou, a Republican financial advisor to Gov. Carlson, says the cost of Government is going down, that it was 17% of personal income in 1992, and it’s 16% now and will be 15% in 2007. He puts it simply: Not to adequately invest in our education future is a travesty.

Responding to the Governor’s budget, Senator Sharon Marko writes in the Hastings Gazette, “Where additional education funding is needed, the governor provides too little . . . increases to K-12 schools fail to keep up with inflation, and increases to higher education fall well short of offsetting recent tuition hikes — 50 percent over the past three years.
“Most disappointing, though, is that the governor’s budget is infused with mechanisms that allow him to shift the tough choices and responsibilities to counties, cities, school districts and local property-tax payers. To witness this trend, look no further than the governor’s plan for increasing school funding. Here, you’ll discover that at the same time the governor takes credit for pumping much-needed funds into our schools, he passes the bill to property taxpayers.”

A StarTribune survey says people aren’t feeling the pain . . . well, nearly two-thirds aren’t, but over one third are! Maybe a survey is not the best way to find out what’s happening to our state. Remember the coal miners who took a canary down in the mine to warn them if the air got bad? They did that because the canary would die before they would. “Hey Minnesota! Anyone feel anything yet? No? Somebody wake up those canaries and find out if they’re feeling anything”

I expect more from my Representative. What about you?

Following is the original letter I wrote and Rep. Cox’s reply:

Education funding leadership needed

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Northfield School District has announced that it will have to cut almost $2.9 million from its budget next year. This is 10 percent of the district’s operating budget. Earlier this month the Governor made the statement, “We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.” Although spending does not necessarily equal quality, funding levels do have a direct correlation with the levels and quality of services we can provide. The experience of the University of Minnesota tells this story, where the ranking of the school has “slipped” and the President attributes recent budget cuts. Our public schools are no different. Some years ago, Minnesota was proud that it spent more money on education than most other states, and all agreed it was a good investment. Why would our state, which is 7th in per capita income, settle for being 23rd (NEA monthly publication) in state spending on education? State funding of education has steadily fallen as funding increases have been frozen for several years and not even covering the costs of inflation.

Funding of schools was a high priority campaign issue in the last election. We have a revenue problem, and yet there’s been no comment from either our local Representative or Senator on what they will do to provide adequate funding for our schools. Rep. Cox claims, “We need to do something about education funding,” but so far is not advocating for anything. He is silent. It will take more than silence and passive observation, waiting for something to vote on, if he wants to do something about education funding.

Cox needs to move his governor to a position of supporting public education. According to Gov. Pawlenty, Mr. Cox has his ear on environmental issues. According to Cox, he’s in the Governor’s “in crowd” and Pawlenty helped him with fund raising here in Northfield. Will this claimed connection bear fruit? Will it help the schools? Ray blogged that he had breakfast with the Governor, but there was no word about whether or not Ray advocated for education.

We need a Representative who will actively advocate for our schools. As a former school board member, Cox ought to know what the Northfield Schools need. Just the other day in his blog, he said, “It is important to create programs and opportunities for Minnesota residents to get good educations and be successful in life.” Well I agree, but it won’t happen unless we continue to fund the programs we have.

Education is not the only budget concern. Transportation, health and human services, the environment are all in desperate need of help. But education is the investment with the best long term benefit that is felt throughout our society.

We face huge looming problems, according to Jared Diamond, professor of geography at the University of California. In his recently published, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” he suggests that there are 12 major problems we face that are all likely to destroy us and unless we can solve them we may well return to the stone age. If we turn a blind eye to obvious societal needs, what kind of cultural stewards are we? If we won’t preserve our education system, how will the next generation fare? If we don’t instill skills and knowledge in our children, how will we have the scientists who will discover the solutions to the problems we face?

We need leaders who will be honest with us about the cost of the services and programs we need and demand and who will stand up for their beliefs — that’s their job. They must be willing to fund our societal needs, with education the top priority. We must be willing to support our legislators in that and pay our fair share for the services from which we all benefit. Otherwise our society is choosing to fail.

– David Bly is a Northfield resident.

Budget is legislature’s major challenge
Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Minnesota Legislature has been in session for the past month. We have welcomed new members and greeted return-ing mem-bers, started com-mittee work and pushed ahead with previous work. It is a busy time and I’m proud to repres-ent the interests of both the people in House District 25B as well as the whole state.

The major challenge facing the Legislature is budgetary in nature. We are charged with preparing a balanced budget for the 2006-2007 biennium which begins this July. The first action in that process already has taken place, namely the release of the governor’s proposed budget. The proposed budget has attracted many comments, both positive and negative, from all across Minnesota. Those comments are all valuable as the Legislature works together to develop a budget that works for Minnesota.

Gov. Pawlenty’s state spending budget is the largest budget in state history. At $29.66 billion it spends $1.6 billion more than the previous biennium, or roughly a 5.8 percent increase in state spending. He has included approximately $350 million of new funding for K-12 schools, another $230 million for higher education, $660 million of increased spending for health and human services, $90 million to support public safety issues, and $11 million to provide added support for Minnesota’s military personnel. It is a well-thought-out, comprehensive budget plan that spends slightly less than Minnesota is expected to collect in tax revenue, creating a balanced budget as required by our constitution.

There are items in the governor’s budget that I would like to see adjusted. I think our K-12 schools and higher education need additional state funding. The investment Minnesota makes in a quality education system pays off huge dividends for years to come. There may be ways to enhance revenue from several sources, providing some new dollars for transportation and environment programs.

The most difficult choices for state spending have to be made in the Health and Human Service Department budget. While the Governor proposes over $600 million of new spending here, that increase does not fully fund existing programs. Minnesota’s public health care programs are unsustainable at the current levels. Without adjustments, the public health care budget would eventually consume 85 percent of all state spending . . . creating an unsustainable situation. If the state were to increase income taxes to support the current health policies, we would have to double our income taxes every eight years . . . also an unworkable situation.

It is important for everyone to remember that you have elected 201 legislators and sent us to St. Paul to work on your behalf. There are 134 state representatives and 67 state senators that care deeply about all Minnesotans. I know that each of us, given the individual chance, would prepare a state budget that looks different than the budget proposed by Gov. Pawlenty. It is our job to collectively work together, and with the governor, to arrive at agreement for all spending decisions in an open and organized process.

An earlier writer on these pages hinted that I might have some special input regarding decisions in the budget setting process. That is not true. All 201 legislators have an equal amount of participation in the budget setting process. We all get one vote on all issues. I do appreciate the fact that I have the opportunity to visit directly with Gov. Pawlenty and others in leadership positions from time to time. When I meet with legislative and executive branch leadership, I discuss a variety of issues important to me and the constituents I represent. I know the governor and others appreciate the information and opinions I bring to them; that is how our wonderful republic is designed to work.

In the next few weeks the House of Representatives and the Senate will work together to set target amounts for each major spending division. That effort will identify the parameters for finance committees to work within. The committee work will eventually lead to a comprehensive budget being presented through a series of omnibus finance bills. There will no doubt be vigorous debate both in legislative committees and on the House and Senate floors about the proposals that come forward.

Last Saturday I conducted five town meetings in Belle Plaine, New Prague, Lonsdale, Northfield and Nerstrand. Nearly 200 people addressed a wide range of topics, which included smoking bans, transportation, health care, gambling, ethanol, school funding, etc. In mid-January I mailed out over 10,000 voter surveys to my constituents. Over the next weeks I will conduct additional Main Street meetings and listening sessions . . . something I’ve been doing since first elected to this office. This activity takes a substantial amount of energy and financial commitment, but I believe it is important for me to gather information from you, my constituents. I thank everyone that attended my recent town meetings for their excellent comments and discussion.

– Ray Cox is a state representative from District 25B and a Northfield resident

Ray is right there are opinions about the governor’s budget. Not all of them by DFLers:

Weighing in on Pawlenty Budget Plan

Patricia Lopez
Star Tribune
Published January 27, 2005

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to balance the state’s books with casino revenue and scaled-back health care has even some Republicans questioning his balance between politics and policy.

John Gunyou, a former finance commissioner under Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, said Wednesday that Pawlenty’s budget was “great politics, but bad policy.”

His prime example is Pawlenty’s proposed eligibility cuts to MinnesotaCare, the state’s subsidized health insurance program. While “politically astute,” Gunyou said, the cuts are bad policy, not only because they would hurt lower-income working Minnesotans, but also because that’s not where the big health-care costs are.

“Everybody knows the biggest cost driver in health care is long-term care for the elderly,” Gunyou said.

According to the state Human Services Department, the state spent $270 million on MinnesotaCare in fiscal year 2004, but $1.1 billion on long-term care, including $428 million on nursing homes.

But Gunyou said Pawlenty recognized that he would lose the support of House Republicans if he attempted to cut nursing homes.

Too little for schools?

Jay Kedrowski, finance commissioner under DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich, who together with Gunyou has become a vocal critic of Pawlenty’s no-tax-increase pledge, said that Pawlenty’s stubborn adherence to the pledge has resulted in a budget that does too little and costs too much.

Once broken down, he said, Pawlenty’s increase to K-12 amounts to 1.5 percent for education during the two-year budget period. An increase of less than 1 percent a year, he said, is nothing to brag about and breaks with the state’s long-standing tradition of pumping money into education. “Our only true advantage is having a highly competitive, well-educated workforce,” he said.

Pawlenty’s Budget Plan Relies on Casino Revenue (1/25/’05)

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