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 email@example.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).