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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

GOP Higher Ed. Legislation Deserves An F

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 02/20/07 08:52

By Christopher Truscott

Republicans talk a lot about economic development and "growing the economy," but when it comes time to present real ideas to help Minnesota compete in the new economy, they offer little more than the same tired rhetoric that has hamstrung our state over the past four years.

Since Gov. Tim Pawlenty took office in 2003, tuition in the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems has jumped by nearly 30 percent. On this governor's watch, too many students ? from urban, rural and, yes, even suburban areas ? are being priced out of the market for acquiring the basic tools needed to survive in the hypercompetitive global economy.

We've essentially sacrificed the future of this state on the altar of "no new taxes." It's an embarrassment and righting that wrong should be a top priority at the Capitol this year.

Faced with a growing crisis on the higher education front, eight of the governor's top legislative allies have come forward with a plan. Unfortunately, their idea is so half-baked it looks like it was drawn up during an "American Idol" commercial break.

H.F. 901/S.F. 533, which is co-sponsored locally by Eagan Rep. Lynn Wardlow and Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington, would limit tuition increases in the MnSCU system to 3 percent in each of the next two academic years. The U of M system would be "encouraged" to abide by the same cap.

That's it. That's their plan. It's hardly the kind of bold thinking that made Minnesota a national leader in the closing decades of the 1900s.

We need real answers, but what we got from Republicans is legislation that's roughly equivalent to trying to fix a leaky roof with bubble gum and duct tape on the eve of a major storm.

Minnesota very correctly gives companies incentives to create new jobs here. Today tax breaks work reasonably well. But 10 or 20 years from now, as Baby Boomers retire, we're going to need a replenished workforce to attract businesses. Even a tax rate on par with that of Alabama won't help Minnesota compete tomorrow if we don't have the well-trained people on hand to fill high-skill new jobs.

The hard work required to keep our state healthy in the decades to come must start now.

Getting Minnesota where it needs to be in 2020 or 2030 will take investment, make no mistake about it. Since we all enjoy the benefits of the state's colleges and universities, we should all pay a portion of the price as part of the biennial budget process. In the absence of adequate state funding, administrators naturally turn to tuition hikes, which generate some much-needed revenue, but ultimately make higher education too expense for an unacceptable number of qualified students.

In recent years, K-12 and early-childhood education funding have rightfully taken center-stage in the big debates at the Capitol, but higher education shouldn't be denied a seat at the table when it comes time to discuss planning for Minnesota's future.

The U of M and MnSCU are the crown jewels of our education system and represent Minnesota's best chance to emerge as a national and global leader in the 21 st century. They must not be short-changed. They deserve funding, but even more than that they deserve consideration far more serious than the dismissive proposal put forward by Wardlow, Garofalo and their allies.

Christopher Truscott can be reached at chris.truscott@gmail.com. Using Republican logic, he shouldn't care about tuition rates since he already has a public university degree (M.A., political science; Minnesota State University , Mankato; December 2001).
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Minnesota's Public Stadiums are Public Disasters

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 02/19/07 14:35

by Dave Mindeman

It is often amusing to observe the business community and the Chambers of Commerce rise in indignation at the mandates and entitlements handed out by government to private citizens. Yet, they have no qualms about pushing their way up to the public trough -- even using extensive lobby dollars to get the biggest share. JOBZ and TIF financing come to mind as business abuses of government "charity", but one of the most visible and controversial mixing of business and government involves the sports stadiums.

One of my favorite public-private "partnership" disasters is the continuing saga regarding the Twins stadium. Is that a piece of work? The local sports talk shows are going off the deep end skewering these land owners over their "greedy" negotiations. Yet, this has boondoggle written all over it with plenty of fault to distribute.

I sure won't defend the land owner piece of this. These guys did their fair share of lobbying to get a piece of the action. But the state and local government portion of this is a horrible piece of legislation. There are dollar limits to be sure, but how those dollars are utilized was left up to the locals -- and they had nothing in place. Hennepin County was expecting the landowners to accept a "rough" version of a deal they had concocted a few years ago when the last stadium push was touted. Now, the deal has some numbers the same but most of the deal is different and the landowners predictably balked (pardon the baseball term).

The Gopher stadium is another mystifying public policy item. The deal sails through the legislature but once it is done, the University piles on some extra "needs" to the tune of $40 million. If they could come up with that kind of money that quickly, why wasn't that calculated into the original package? Since the University is the responsibility of the State of Minnesota, I won't lump this into the other stadium issues. But I still find it irritating.

We won't even go into the Vikings... for them to demand public financing for a stadium is absolultely ludicrous. They have wasted enough money on idiotic contracts for marginal players over the past few years that they could have paid for their own stadium by now.

If I ever hear Ziggy, or Glen Taylor, or the Polads even utter the phrase "welfare cheat" in any context, I will burn every piece of Minnesota sports paraphanalia I own.

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Minnesota's Legislature Needs FULL Investment in ECFE

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 02/19/07 13:22, Edited: 02/19/07 13:24

by Dave Mindeman

When you look into the future, it sometimes isn't very pretty. There will be wars and more wars...if not Iraq, then elsewhere. Global warming issues continue to be great topics of discussion but actions are few and far between. Some reports indicate that we have pretty much gone beyond the point of saving the polar ice caps. We have a baby boom generation that is eating up world resources like a goat in a garbage dump. It's bleak.

But you know what is going to save this planet? The kids, the young kids, the baby faced cherubs that make us go ahhhhh. And you know what we can do to help them? That is, besides stopping the outrageous borrowing we are doing from their future bank accounts? The best thing we can do for them is ECFE.

What? ECFE -- Early Childhood Family Education? Yea..that's right. If we want to solve our future problems, then we need to invest in and pay for ECFE.

It is a proven fact that early exposure to learning and education principles for these young kids makes them smarter, more teachable, and they utilize better overall learning skills.

Its expensive... and the current talk between the Governor and the legislature focuses on how we can "get by". Oh, they understand the need; it is certainly "important", but the money.... that's the problem.

Well, it has always been the problem. But if we are to move our society forward, we need to make a full investment in early education. And investment is the proper word. Fully funding this vital program will return that investment many fold. It will make future education dollars more efficient; it will give us a future generation of, not only better taxpayers, but better citizens. And, the educational envelope will be pushed.... pushed enough to maybe save the planet? Who knows.

I hope this legislature heeds its own rhetoric and makes ECFE a high level priority for FULL funding for every Minnesota kid....even if it requires us to actually pay something, in our own real taxable dollars, for our children's future and the planet they still hope to reside in.
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