We kicked off the first October door knock with Governor Mark Dayton last Saturday morning. Over 30 students and community members joined to take part in door knocking, phone banking and on-site support.
I had the pleasure of speaking with several young representatives of the DFL party that are volunteering this election cycle — as well as many long-time supporters and new members of the community.
Many supporters brought their children along, which is always a strong reminder of why the work we do in St. Paul is so important. Being a father of three, I want to make sure my children, as well as the children of this community, receive the best opportunities to get ahead in life.
It was also an honor to have Governor Dayton and Representative David Bly engaged with the community — sharing their experiences and beliefs that we can rise above to make positive changes for future generations.
Overall, this was a great way to begin the last leg of the campaign season. We have several other community events to get involved in — more info can be found on the events calendar. Feel free to send me a note as well.
I’m looking forward to earning your vote this election,
With the end of the 2016 legislative session only a few weeks away, the session is heating up. Supplemental budget proposals will be finalized soon, bills are leaving committees to be heard on the floor, and the process of negotiating an end to the session has begun in earnest.
While Republican and Democratic Party leaders can and will get into partisan battles during these negotiations, members of the Minnesota Senate’s Purple Caucus have been working hard to hammer out points of unity. As a representative of a very politically diverse district, I am proud to be a part of that work as a member of the caucus. The Purple Caucus includes both parties, with Senators Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) and Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth) acting as co-chairs.
When I teach my students about American politics, I tell them that parties have important roles to play in our political system, but it’s important to keep in mind the larger goals of public service. A bipartisan caucus can be a great opportunity for members of opposing political parties to engage on issues they all care about.
Members of the Purple Caucus do just that, and in this case, our unifying factor is our pride in our state. (Senator Reinert may have named the caucus after joint military exercises involving blended “Purple Units,” but as a Vikings fan, I like to think it extends to our NFL team as well.) The Purple Caucus meets regularly to talk about positions we have in common, and have outlined four principles that we will speak up for as the session draws to a close.
First, Minnesotans expect the 2016 legislature to pass a Transportation Finance Bill, a Tax Bill, and a Bonding Bill. The transportation and tax bills are still pending from last year, when the session ended before either bill was passed. I believe that sustainable transportation funding is critical to our state’s economic development, and will save taxpayers money in the long run. A tax bill with carefully targeted middle-class and property tax relief will give some money back to Minnesotans, without busting the budget in future years.
The Purple Caucus also supports the passage of both a Bonding Bill and a Transportation Finance Bill, and that roads, bridges, and transit should not be funded through borrowing in the Bonding Bill. Bonding is an important tool that the state uses to upgrade, repair, or build new state infrastructure, and leaning on this borrowing to fund roads and bridges would crowd out needed investments in other areas. I am concerned that overly-politicizing the state’s bonding by including individual transportation projects would jeopardize their eventual completion and, furthermore, be bad for our long-term fiscal health.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Purple Caucus has called for increased transparency in the legislative process. The end of last year’s legislative session was disappointing to everyone, with closed-door meetings and negotiations often locking out not only the public, but even elected officials not part of their party leadership. We believe that all legislators and the public should be included in the final decision-making process.
The Purple Caucus also encourages like-minded members of the Minnesota House to join our efforts, prioritizing our common ground as we finish this session. We may not always be successful, and there are still major differences between our parties, but acknowledging and fighting for our shared goals will make our state a better place for everyone. The Purple Caucus adheres to the following principles, as developed by the Speak Your Peace Civility Project: pay attention; be inclusive; not gossip; show respect; be agreeable; apologize; give constructive criticism; and take responsibility.
As rural legislators, we recognize the great need for a robust transportation funding package for our communities. Roads and bridges are critical to the success of our economy, and the increasing demand is putting pressure on our aging network. We also know that projects like completing Highway 14 and expansion of Highway 19 will take years to finish – and shouldn’t be done a mile at a time.
It is well reported that Minnesota’s transportation needs have reached a critical point. Paying for the needed investment our transportation network needs will require significant resources. According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, our shortfall over the next 20 years will reach nearly $16.3 billion. To succeed as a state, we must find a way to fill this gap in a sustainable and reliable way.
Thankfully, our colleagues in the Senate and the House recognize the great need for this investment. We have all heard from our constituents just how important a transportation bill is to the success of our townships, our towns and cities, our counties, and in every corner of Minnesota.
Unfortunately, that’s where our similarities seem to end. We are willing to look at all options on the table. However, we are unwilling to compromise on a plan for our transportation network that is worse for rural communities. By relying on local tax increases, one-time spending, and borrowing, the Republican plan does not provide the same level of support for those communities—our communities—that need it most.
Because our rural communities don’t have the same tax base as the suburbs and metro, rural Minnesota would get less with local tax increases that the House GOP relies upon. They do not provide any new funding for larger city local roads, and they do not provide enough investment for smaller cities. Without this new funding, our areas will have to rely on local sources of revenue like a wheelage or county sales tax – which would fall far short of what’s needed.
For example, the Republican plan gives minimal funding to small cities, enough to fill a few potholes at best. To raise more revenue, Rice or Waseca County could adopt a sales tax. However, the new revenue raised by the tax base in these counties cannot support the demands of their aging systems. Local sources of revenue are simply not enough to replace a stable statewide funding source.
Instead of providing consistent and dedicated funding for all parts of our state, the House would also rely on a significant amount of bonding. Transportation projects are often 5, 10, and 15-year projects that require long-term, dedicated funding. Planning projects cannot rely on the action of future legislatures. At best, we set a risky precedent of a bonding bill picking winners and losers for specific road projects; at worst, funding dries up for critical work.
In the DFL-led Senate, we have put forth a comprehensive plan that provides stable and dedicated funding for the entire state’s transportation network. This significant new influx of revenue will be spread across all 87 counties and hundreds of our towns and cities, ensuring our communities can get more funding to support local projects on Main Street.
A modest increase in the state’s gas tax can provide stable and significant new revenue for all of Minnesota’s counties, and for those towns and cities that need it most. The gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to paying for roads and bridges, and is the guarantee we need for long-term priorities.
The Senate transportation bill delivers a promise for our state’s transportation network – stable and consistent funding, spread to every community that needs it, with increased investments for rural communities that cannot support new road projects on their own.
Almost two dozen states, many with Republican governors and legislatures, have passed transportation bills through a combination of increasing their gas tax, general fund money, and other means. Let’s pass a responsible transportation bill that provides the stable and consistent funding our communities need.
Teacher shortages in Minnesota have reached critical levels, and there’s no easy fix. The issue is not confined to just one part of the system; unsustainable trends in teacher recruitment, licensure areas, and increased retirements have worked together to create a school environment in which students either do not have the right teachers in the classroom or schools can’t find enough applicants for the positions they need to fill. This happens most frequently in rural communities, and if continued, will badly damage Minnesota’s ability to provide a strong education for students no matter where they live in the state.
80 percent of school administrators statewide have reported that it was either “difficult” or “very difficult” to fill vacant positions for the current school year. Seven percent of educators are teaching outside their licensure area because their districts can’t find enough candidates to fill necessary positions, and another ten percent of Minnesota teachers left the profession in 2012-13. After working with rural school districts and stakeholders, I have put together a bill to address the many challenges faced by our schools as they try to find and keep enough educators in the classroom.
Thankfully, just because it’s not an easy fix doesn’t mean it can’t be a bipartisan bill. The Teacher Shortage Act has already earned strong support from both parties as it passed the Minnesota Senate’s Education Policy Committee this week on a unanimous vote. The House author, Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), and I have had many disagreements about what is best for our kids in the past, but attracting and keeping great teachers is something we can both support. I’m particularly pleased that in this contentious political atmosphere, we have been able to bring Democrats, Republicans, teachers, and administrators to the table to begin working to find the best possible solution for our kids.
The Teacher Shortage Act is comprised of seven separate initiatives designed to reduce the teacher shortage in Minnesota. A statewide teacher job board for teacher candidates will help new educators find open positions and districts, particularly in rural communities where it has been more difficult to
advertise. As they find open positions, grants will be made available to student teachers who are willing to work in shortage areas like math, science, and special education.
To attract students to the profession in the first place, an expansion of the existing Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness program for teachers in shortage areas or communities in need will make financing a teacher education more possible. Once they are in a teaching position, bringing Teacher Evaluation and Development funding statewide to provide rural teachers with better training, support, and development so they are more likely to stay in the classroom long term.
The Teacher Shortage Act also broadens the scope of Minnesota’s science licensure, in order to make licenses better reflect both need and usage in our classrooms, and creates a “Grow Your Own” pathway to licensure for local paraprofessionals who want to become licensed teachers in the districts they already teach. We have also requested a Special Education Educator Programs Report, in which MnSCU will supply a report on special education teacher programs and graduation statistics to help assess shortages in that field.
This is a landmark, bipartisan piece of legislation for our schools and our kids. It still has far to go before it lands on the Governor’s desk for a signature, but we have taken the first steps in the process of attracting the best teacher candidates and keeping them in Minnesota classrooms where they belong.