Saturday Town Meetings

Last Saturday, I attended all but one of the town meetings hosted by Rep. Ray Cox and Sen. Tom Neuville.

About 40 people gathered in the small Belle Plaine Community Library meeting room to hear updates from the legislators and to ask questions.

Healthcare topped the list of constituent concerns in Belle Plaine. Superintendent Lubovich was concerned that the Education Minnesota proposal to create a statewide insurance pool would hurt Belle Plaine teachers. Ray Cox indicated he was opposed to the measure because it would create winners and losers. He also added that in his experience with his 38 employees, if you have members with high use it drives up the cost of premiums, and that would not be a good thing.

I was confused by this, because I thought the reason a large pool was advantageous is because it would reduce the cost by spreading the need across a much larger pool and the long term effect would be to slow the cost increases, in this case double digit increases that districts have been hit with. Isn’t this the reason generally for pooled health coverage as opposed to self-insurance?

Rep. Brod indicated she supported the measure.

Sen. Neuville thought that if teachers want a state health plan then they should agree to become state employees and let the legislature settle their contracts. Rep. Cox said again that he was cautious of state pools because if your overall use is high than everyone will have higher cost, which still made no sense to me..

Throughout the day, legislators heard the theme of frustration of constituents who said it was difficult to get MNDOT to listen requests for speed limit and traffic control on State highways that pass through communities. Every community expressed concern about this, and felt that lives were being lost needlessly and that simple requested projects were unreasonably delayed.

Land use: early in the day several asked about HF2021, a bill that Rep. Brod has co-authored. It is part of a group of bills sponsored by ARMR, an association of business interests including car dealerships, groceries, developers and construction companies. In Northfield, Rep. Ray Cox said that he is a member of the a construction association that is a member of ARMR — that is not a conflict of interest because he is not receiving any direct gain. Rep. Brod denied that the bill had any ill effects, although later in the day a look at the bill revealed that, as originally written, it would deny communities the right to put a moratorium on any type of existing or permitted land use. Sen. Neuville came out strongly against that type of limitation. The bill passed out of House committee last week, and in the current engrossment, that provision has been removed. The Senate bill, SF 2274, however, still contains that limitation, and I hope Sen. Neuville will follow through to remove this restriction. HF 2057 and SF 2251 are also part of this ARMR effort.

One constituent asked about the future of TIF funding. Rep. Cox said he believed that due to abuses TIF will probably be phased out. As a developer, Ray Cox has been the recipient of TIF funds in Northfield.

Laura Brod disagreed about the future of TIF, saying she viewed it as a tool that communities will want to continue to use to attract economic development.

On the other hand, a recent article in the Star Tribune, reporting on a forum at the Humphrey Institute, stated that subsidies of this type hurt communities, and the local governments pay dearly for any benefits received.

Subsidies may harm, not help
Mike Meyers, Star Tribune National Economics Correspondent
Many public subsidies to private enterprise carry more costs than benefits, according to a majority of speakers at a forum Friday at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Grants, low-interest loans, tax-increment financing, tax abatements and other devices in government’s economic development tool bag create taxpayer liabilities that rarely are measured, said Peter Fisher, a University of Iowa economist.
Two factors often ignored, he said, are:
– When a subsidized company moves away or goes out of business before it starts paying taxes. Many property tax subsidies keep companies off the tax rolls for 10, 20 or 25 years.
– Subsidies to companies that would have made the same location choices without aid.
Fisher estimated in a recent study that state and local governments lose $8,700 to $33,500 annually for every job they generate through subsidies.
Another problem implicit in subsidies is that companies come to expect them, said Kenneth Thomas, economist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.

Another constituent was concerned about NCLB saying that it was the worst thing to come along since segregation. He works in education and spends his days communicating with educators, and said he had talked to lots of people and they uniformly and strongly felt it was a bad idea.
Ray indicated he understood there were some problems but said that there were many good things about it. He than told an anecdote he had used during the last campaign about an employee who was unable to read a tape measure. Rep. Cox seemed ready to condemn the education system based on this student’s possible disability. “How could he get a diploma and not know how to read a tape measure?” I am not a math teacher, and I do not know if this is on the new math standards test. However, I do know that being able to read a tape measure was part of the Profile of Learning. But that Profile was something Rep. Cox was vehemently opposed to, and he also didn’t relate having taught that person that simple skill that would make the difference in job success – we weren’t told what happened to him.

Ray was asked about the Commissioner of Education and both legislators indicated they thought she had done a good job getting the Dept. back on track. Changing the name was a big step, from the CFL to Minnesota Dept. of Education. Ray indicated that it helps refocus the Department. on its job of educating students. I tried to remind them that the CFL was a plan of Republican Governor Arne Carlson’s to reduce the problems with data privacy inherent in interagency communication as joint efforts were made to help students with socio-economic difficulties. The idea behind that reorganization was that the various agencies could better communicate and reduce duplication and costs in providing needed services.

I wonder how they would feel about reinstating the Minnesota Board of Education to rein some of the more extreme changes the Commissioner has brought, such as the social studies standards, and to combat the impact of Rod Paige’s efforts to make the state Department of Education an arm of the federal dept of ed. Just the other day Rod Paige accused teachers unions of being terrorists.

Education Secretary Paige calls teachers union “terrorist organization”
AP National Writer
(c) 2004. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Education Secretary Rod Paige called the nation’s largest teachers union a “terrorist organization” during a private White House meeting with governors on Monday.

Democratic and Republican governors confirmed Paige’s remarks about the 2.7-million-member National Education Association.

“These were the words, ‘The NEA is a terrorist organization,'” said Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin.

“He was making a joke, probably not a very good one,” said Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania. “Of course he immediately divorced the NEA from ordinary teachers, who he said he supports.”

“I don’t think the NEA is a terrorist organization,” said Rendell, who has butted heads with the group as well. “They’re not a terrorist organization any more than the National Business Organization is a terrorist organization.

Neither the Education Department nor NEA had an immediate comment on Paige’s comments. Both indicated that statements were forthcoming.

Education has been a top issue for governors, who have sought more flexibility from the administration on President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law, which seeks to improve school performance in part by allowing parents to move their children from poorly performing schools.

Democrats have said Bush has failed to fully fund the law, giving the states greater burdens but not the resources to handle them.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, said Paige’s remarks startled the governors, who met for nearly two hours with Bush and several Cabinet officials. Bush was not present when Paige made his statement.

“He is, I guess, very concerned about anybody that questions what the president is doing,” Holden said.

In my opinion, testing of students is abused and is being implemented to show that public education is a failure. Under the current scheme, it is estimated in a legislative audit that 80% of schools will “fail,” a number agreed upon at the Northfield session, and their response was that then the testing would have to be “tweaked.” Why we aren’t using tests to make schools as good as they can be instead of using them as a tool to shut them down.

One constituent asked about the loss of support for early childhood programs and childcare. He works in early childhood programs, promotes ECFE at the legislature, and indicated that Minnesota had gone from 4th in the nation to 29th in support for childcare and ECFE programs.
Ray indicated he thought those families who made the decision to have one parent stay home should receive some compensation. He noted that his wife Ellen never worked in order to stay home with the children and they as a family received no compensation for this. The questioning constituent noted that Ray did not address the issue of some families not being able to make the choice, and some families having only one parent.

All day kindergarten was brought up as a somewhat related issue, and the legislators did not feel it should be instated just because people wanted more childcare. One constituent mentioned that time spent in a kindergarten class was a proven step up from childcare.

Senator Neuville expressed concern that if you fund, it people will use it. Some asked what would be wrong with that.

To be continued. . .

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