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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

MN GOP Financial Structure - A House Of Cards

Category: GOP 2014
Posted: 03/02/15 23:22

by Dave Mindeman

The MN GOP has this condescending attitude about the Democratic approach to fiscal responsibility. They want everyone to believe that they have this high moral ground when it comes to spending, debt, and fiscal restraint.

But then, every once in awhile you get a look at how they operate their own financial sphere.

And it gets pretty ugly.

Oh, I'm not just talking about the occasional individual hypocrisy like Senator Sean Nienow and his discharge of $800,000 in personal debt via bankruptcy. No, I mean the even clearer picture of fiscal irresponsibility coming from the state party.

When Tony Sutton left his trail of unpaid bills a few years ago, the Party told us that we had seen the worst. That story would end and they would right the ship. Pat Shortridge took a stab at it and seemed to be making progress and now Chairman Keith Downy assures everyone that the trail of progress continues.

Or does it?

Two Republican-owned national political consulting firms are demanding the Minnesota Republican Party settle hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills from the 2014 campaign, a sign the party's long-running financial struggles may not be totally resolved.

It is not often that vending firms that deal with various state party and individual campaigns will go public with unpaid debt. It has to be particularly egrigious for them to come out of the shadows and make a public comment. But in this case, it happened....

In e-mails to state GOP Chairman Keith Downey, top executives at Salt Lake City-based Arena Communications and the Kansas-based Singularis Group blasted the Minnesota Republican Party in unusually frank language. They said the party has failed to pay its bills for direct mail and other political communications on behalf of federal and state GOP candidates running for office in Minnesota last fall.

This wasn't ongoing debt from the Sutton years. This was debt taken on intentionally for the 2014 campaign. They spent money they did not have and have made little attempt to pay it back.

Downey tries to put his "spin" on it...

"We feel confident about the financial footing of the party," he said. Asked how much the party still owed vendors, Downey put the figure at about $300,000. That's owed strictly to vendors and is not part of the party's $1.5 million in ongoing debt from past obligations.

That would total, even by Downey's count, $1.8 million debt. At the height of the Sutton fiasco, the MN GOP debt was $2 million. That's progress?

The manager of Arena Communications put it a little more bluntly...

"I was dismayed to read your claim in the MN GOP Annual Report that 'We were able to support our endorsed candidates through the primary and with a statewide victory program, while simultaneously meeting our financial obligations and paying down debt, " Valcarce wrote to Downey. "I can attest this is a total falsehood."

Debt. Lies. More debt. In January of this year, the MN GOP was hit with another campaign finance fine from the FEC for failing to disclose another $250,000 in receipts, payments and debts. More lies. More debt.

And somehow on the backs of "deficit spending" and financial lies, the MN GOP took back the Minnesota House in 2014 - and then immediately launched into their obstruction of the Democratic plan for continuing a fiscal path that has led our state to a $1.9 billion surplus.

Why should we listen to them? I mean seriously, why?

The finances of the MN GOP is just a house of cards.
comments (1) permalink

Downey's "Fixes" for MNSure Are More Bunk

Category: Health Care
Posted: 03/01/15 17:36

by Dave Mindeman

I need to respond to an OP-ED in the Star Tribune by Keith Downy, chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and obvious MNsure critic.

It is a bit surprising that Downey and the MN GOP suddenly think of themselves as some kind of "savior" for MNsure - especially when they actively blocked its beginning, did nothing to work on the bill that brought it into being, have not bothered with helping in its evolution, and are still actively seeking to kill it with every opportunity.

So the idea of having the "cure" has to be viewed somewhat skeptically.

But at least, for once, Downey puts forward some actual remedies. Let's take a look....

1. Only 9 percent of MNsure enrollees actually bought the private coverages, and these enrollees don't need MNsure's failed technology to find their insurance. H.F. 5, authored by Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, proposes waivers allowing enrollees to take their government subsidy to private-sector insurance exchanges, which already offer Obamacare-compliant private coverages and work perfectly. We should free these MNsure-locked customers to shop wherever they want! Using the federal exchange could also be evaluated.

Private plans have been key to MNsure's viability. And the horrible website has chased away most of the people that wanted to buy a private plan. But there is a flaw in the Mack bill. If we allow the federal subsidies to be used by the private sector, we will have a gigantic privacy issue. The exchanges and Fed website were designed to use data gathered from the IRS to determine those subsidies. One of the problems in forming these exchanges is how to keep that data safe and private. What the Mack bill does is potentially open that income data to insurance carriers, which to me would be a bigger disaster than software problems.

2. The 91 percent enrolled in government's MinnesotaCare and Medicaid programs, which have been available for years, were enrolled through the regular process and systems at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). They can continue to be. These enrollees do not need MNsure to get their coverage either!

Yes, many of them were eligible before. And many more became eligible with the Medicaid expansion. Except why were they not getting that coverage before? One of the reasons is that they didn't know about the programs or know that they were eligible. The MNsure exchange has been a valuable tool for determining all of that. Granted, the software has still made part of that journey into coverage a little tedious, but the overwhelming numbers of new MNCare and Medicaid recipients means that our overall uninsured rate has dropped by 40%. Would that have happened without MNsure? Maybe some of it - but it is hard to imagine Republicans signing onto new outreach programs to find them.

3.  Shut down the unnecessary MNsure bureaucracy and operations. S.F. 810, authored by Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, proposes an alternative nonprofit structure to manage Obamacare coverages, much like the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association operated successfully.

I'm not sure how this is worded, but it is hard to imagine that we actually know what is unnecessary at this time. The MN Comprehensive Health Association is a favorite of Republicans because it only provided catastrophic coverage - few prescriptions or any preventive medicine. It was cheap insurance because it covered only the extreme health event. The MN GOP would love to bring that back.

4. Evaluate whether any components of MNsure's technology or operations could be salvaged by the DHS to improve the enrollment process for MinnesotaCare and Medicaid. If not, shut them down altogether.

We do have serious problems coordinating MNsure to our state health programs. Lots of improvement is needed here and they need to "talk" to each other much more efficiently. It might be better to have MNsure determine eligiblity for these plans and then turn over the files to MNCare or Medicaid from there. MNsure seems to have complicated matters with state recipients and that does need to be fixed.

Downey is good at listing complaints about MNsure - GOPers in general have made it a political sport. But his idea of "real" fixes is pretty shallow at best - and will make things more complicated at worst.

I am sure we would all like the MN GOP to be a partner in solving the MNsure problems, but Downey's words are no evidence of that.

Not in the least.
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Finally, Pioneer Press Discovers The Real Education Issue

Category: Education
Posted: 03/01/15 16:57

by Dave Mindeman

I want to get back to the education bill coming out of the Minnesota House regarding changes in LIFO and licensure.

Finally, we seem to have one of the major dailies bringing up the points I have been trying to make recently. From the Pioneer Press:

Minnesota faces teacher shortage, but how best to fix it?

Key excerpts:

Complicating the debate is state data on Minnesota's teaching force that sometimes paints a conflicting picture of the hurdles and shortages described to lawmakers. Despite the attention they draw, teacher layoffs are rather rare. At the height of the recession, less than 2 percent of Minnesota's teaching force was cut.

More...

Minnesota's process for licensing teachers is often criticized as convoluted, but the number of teachers from outside the state being licensed has more than doubled since 2010, state data shows

More...

Each year, about 10 percent of that workforce leaves, mostly because of retirements, personal reasons or being hired elsewhere. The data suggests about half of those departing teachers leave education altogether. Young teachers have some of the highest attrition rates, with 32 percent leaving teaching within their first five years.

And more...

State data show some of the toughest teaching jobs to fill are those working with students with learning or developmental disabilities, students learning English and jobs that require special language skills.

These are noteworthy points and also points which the House Republican caucus is NOT addressing in their education bill. Focusing on teacher layoffs as a problem source is like focusing on ditches as part of a road problem. It does not get at the root of the problem. And the root problem in education is getting and keeping teachers in the profession.

Even if you would assume that LIFO is a significant problem, districts do have the legal authority to take other factors into account in 40% of the school districts. Frankly, I think district administrators are too lazy to make that happen or too fearful that it will lead to protracted negotiations that they want to avoid. The Loon education bill would open up a new can of worms for districts to contend with in contract negotiations.

There is one important point that House Republicans refuse to take into account...

One thing is clear: Layoffs of teachers are relatively rare, even in tough times.

Our problem is not "fairness" in layoffs, it is keeping teachers period.

Is anybody at the legislature listening?
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