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I get frequent calls from my friend David who reminds me that people who work at the nursing home he lives in are underpaid and struggle to make ends meet. I hear from MNDOT contractors who’ve conducted layoffs that decrease their ability to take on the many repairs that our state desperately needs. College students tell me about how they needed a tuition freeze and more money added to the state grant program to continue school. School board members and superintendents say they don’t want to lay off teachers this year, but may have to due to finances.
Last week I met with some folks who work at the security hospital in St. Peter. We talked about some of the incidents that have happened there and how dangerous their job is. The hospital is not hiring new staff. Some workers are delaying their retirement, out of concern for their fellow workers, because the current staff will be subjected to mandatory overtime shifts if others aren’t hired. One worker calculated that for what the state pays out in overtime, they could hire more staff. It seems clear that the mindset that “government spends too much” is affecting them and their ability to do their jobs safely.
So, when I hear some say that “we have a huge surplus” or “we should give it all back,” I find it troubling. Having served in the legislature for a while, I know firsthand that we’ve lived through more than a decade of substantial budget cuts. During that time we struggled with where to cut and how to do the least amount of damage to state agencies and keep other vital services we fund.
This week, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle released their budget plan for Minnesota’s next two years. It calls for cutting funding for health and human services by more than $1 billion and cuts tens of millions from areas that create jobs, make energy affordable, and protect our environment. They make those cuts while also proposing to cut taxes by an astonishing $2 billion dollars. While they didn’t specify who would get the tax breaks, I’m assuming that it will go to corporate special interests because the first bill they introduced this year did just that. They also released a transportation plan that ignores entire portions of the state while paying for it by borrowing billions of dollars and taking billions more from parts of the State budget that would otherwise go to areas like education and health care.
Last week we tried, to no avail, to defeat a bill carried by Rep. Garofalo that would reduce the minimum wage for already underpaid tipped employees. I have been receiving e-mails from unhappy constituents after it passed with comments like: “The service industry wage is a scam, designed to keep the working poor in the hole. Tell Pat Garofalo he should probably plan to exclusively dine in.”
These actions remind me of when the Tax Committee Chair said “we need to put the brakes on” policies that help lower and middle income Minnesotans get ahead. It seems as though many of the advances we made the last two years for working people were just too rich for some. I don’t like sounding this partisan, I only mention this because I am troubled by the growing divide between those who are doing well and those who struggle to get ahead. We need to be careful about “putting the brakes on” before we’ve done enough to help all Minnesotans see some benefit from our growing economy.
I’m interested in building a future in Minnesota where more people can get ahead. That means creating opportunities through education, making investments in infrastructure and supporting vital services like health care. It also means making sure we have a fair playing field, where hard work not only provides enough money for people to support themselves and their families, but allows them to get ahead.
Two years ago, after a decade of structural budget deficits, accounting gimmicks and borrowing from our kids, we finally balanced our budget in an honest way. We made strategic investments, raised the minimum wage and provided tax relief for middle class Minnesotans and homeowners, but we also raised revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes and asked the top 2% to pay their fair share in taxes.
Two weeks ago the Department of Revenue released its annual Tax Incidence Study. The study showed that for 9 out of 10 Minnesotans—those earning less than $140,000 a year—they’re seeing their taxes go down. The study noted that taxes were going down for the vast majority of Minnesotans because of the policies we implemented and because wages are growing.
It’s clear that the policies we enacted are helping more Minnesotans and providing more opportunities to get ahead. The State is on great economic footing too. We have a projected budget surplus of $2 billion that is due to the improving economy and policies put in place.
I want to build a future in Minnesota where more people can get ahead all across our state. That means a Minnesota where we invest in education, from early childhood all the way to accessible and affordable college. We should ensure that when people work hard they can do more than just get by, they should be able to get ahead. That also means that we have a tax code where 9 out of 10 Minnesotans can benefit from a growing economy.
The last thirty years have seen an unraveling of benefits and opportunities for the vast majority of people and a massive increase in the concentration of wealth among a tiny group of people. We can’t count on the economy to do as well as it has the past two years indefinitely. Making drastic cuts to vital services while giving money to corporate special interests or excessive tax cuts for the rich isn’t going to build a stable future where more people have the opportunity to get ahead.
Categories: Government Officials
Supporting farmers in Minnesota is a bipartisan issue. We often hear how we should support all kinds of agriculture and I agree. Whether Republicans or Democrats controlled agriculture committees, we’ve been united in our goal to make sure farmers in Minnesota thrive. However, just like you can’’ t fit everything you might want to eat on your plate, sometimes you have to make choices about what you put on your plate or what kind of farming we support on the land.
We have seen policies at both at the state and federal level that try to address concerns about making sure farmers can continue to provide us food we need. I currently serve as DFL lead on the Agriculture Policy committee and I am concerned about what appears to be a disturbing trend that is dividing farmers and legislators alike. We’re told, that in order to help farmers succeed, we should support ‘‘ real’’ farmers and ‘‘ real’’ farmers are farmers that operate bigger and bigger farms.
Over the history of farming we have seen farms get big and small. But getting bigger is frequently described as a trend that makes economic sense. But economic sense for whom? That’s a question that rarely gets asked. Farms of all sizes I talk to have different opinions, but those that manage to remain small don’’ t have access to the same government programs to protect them. However, they are able to stay closer to the land and more sensitive to how it’s used and how that use affects their neighbors and the environment. Processors of farm products tend to like dealing with fewer bigger farms. But we see this trend means fewer people on the land and fewer customers supporting rural economies. It makes me concerned about how we best grow economic development in greater Minnesota.
A number of committee hearings this year have focused on bills and policies to support large-scale industrial farming practices, including industrial feedlots with thousands of animals. Livestock production is a challenging way to make a living for most farmers, in fact many operations were in jeopardy the last few years due to high feed prices and low milk or meat prices. Some small producers if not over regulated can be more resilient.
When we support these livestock farmers , which we should, we often see improved soil and water quality, and increasing profits from more pasture land planted with perennial feed crops. On the other hand, we had testimony from a study sponsored by MN Milk Producers that the optimum size of a dairy farm is at least 2,000 cows. It’s difficult to put that many cows out to pasture. Livestock on the land in smaller numbers as well as perennial crops and pastureland has proven to be beneficial to rejuvenate soil and benefit efforts to improve water quality.
Minnesota has a law known as the Right to Farm statute, which protects most all farms from nuisance laws. As it stands, cattle operations with less than 2,500 cows are protected from neighbors claiming they’re a nuisance. That’s all but about a dozen cattle farms in the state. However, we recently heard a bill to dramatically limit a neighbor’s right to claim cattle operations larger than 2,500 cattle and 3,000 market ready hogs are a nuisance.
The bill would exempt these industrial feedlots from nuisance law suits brought by their neighbors if they just met a state standard for hydrogen sulfide, a gas that’s known to be toxic. Hydrogen sulfide is not associated with an odor, yet these operations produce numerous offensive gasses and large amounts of waste that cause odor. Meeting just one standard doesn’t mean they are no longer a nuisance to their neighbors. A nuisance law suit in this case only allows you to ask the feedlot to do something to abate the nuisance, like put in bio filters to reduce odor. It does not pay you for any damages. Rightly, neighbors are concerned about children with health problems like asthma with these operations.
This bill was brought to us by a proposed operation, owned by out of state interests, that is currently in the courts with the adjacent landowners. Rarely do we consider a bill that will play a role in ongoing litigation.
As a general principle I don’t think we should take away the rights of citizens to ask a farm operation to limit practices that have a detrimental effect on their livelihood, leaving no recourse other than to move away if they can sell their property. The recent pattern we’ve seen in the agriculture committees has been unsettling. We’re encouraging the creation of ever larger industrial scale operations that may offend their neighbors and aren’t going to have the added public benefits of clean and healthy air, water and soil we seen when we encourage farming practices that are better for the environment, that are better for those living near farms, and that allow more people to work with and care for our precious farmland.
The future of farming in Minnesota shouldn’t be one where we have fewer and fewer farmers acting as stewards of the land. It’s a simple notion, but encouraging more farmers is better for everyone by improving our economy and our environment. – Rep. David Bly
(This was recently published guest column in the Northfield News and Le Center Leader.)
Categories: Government Officials