We are entering the promised land of Minnesota politics — the time when campaigning means making promises, the more the better. We now have three Republican, five Democratic and two third-party teams running for governor and lieutenant governor. That’s a lot of smart people inundating us with e-mail, social media, door knocking, advertising and plain, old-fashioned mail touting their promises as the reason we should vote for them. On Aug. 14, we will have the opportunity to whittle that number down to just one Democratic team and one Republican, plus the two third-party candidate teams. But the promises won’t end then; they will only multiply. The issues we face in Minnesota are known. What is unknown is what these candidates think they can do about them, and why we should trust them to do so. Get your BS detector tuned up and ready. Don’t vote for anyone who cannot tell you, in plain language, how they are going to deal with at least all of the following:
Protecting our seniors and other vulnerable people
The state directly and indirectly has a responsibility for ensuring the well-being of tens of thousands of Minnesotans in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, hospitals, foster care homes, day care facilities for both children and adults, and many others. As we saw with assisted-living facilities, the state failed. And that is not the first time. Nor is it likely to be the last. Is more regulation the answer? If so, how do we enforce new regulations if we cannot enforce what we already have? We cannot afford to put an inspector in every facility every day. Are there other options? How can we give vulnerable people and their families greater power to protect themselves?
Getting a driver’s license (and other things that shouldn’t be this hard)
The driver’s license system is a technological fiasco. And it’s not the only one. Recall the MNsure debacle? Amazon, Google, Apple and countless others have made it possible for us to complete even the most complex and intimate transactions quickly and securely. There is an app for everything — except government.
Every time we want to interact with government, we have to forget we live in the 21st century and go back to the last one. Ask candidates: What will you do to bring government into this century? How can you make transacting business with government — getting a driver’s, boating or hunting license; paying taxes, fees or fines; registering a car or business; and so many other things — simple, fast, secure and mobile? How can you make government smart enough to be on my smartphone?
Getting an education and winning the war for talent
There is a scandal in our schools. We are handing out more and more diplomas each year, but the percentage of students with college and career-ready ACT scores is unchanged. We encourage those unready students to enroll in our colleges and pay tuition, only to watch them wash out without graduating (50 percent of those going to two-year schools never finish).
They think it’s their fault — but it’s the state’s fault. Ask candidates: How can Minnesota win the war for talent that will define the economic future for our state if we cannot educate our own kids effectively? How will you make sure that a diploma means students have demonstrated that what they know and are able to do makes them ready for college or the world of work?
Over the last 25 years, we have increased the amount we spend per pupil by one-third (after removing the effect of inflation) without any significant improvement in results. Spending more hasn’t worked. Ask: What’s your approach to getting better results for our students?
Getting health insurance and getting healthy
We have MNsure, Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. About 20 percent of Minnesotans get their health insurance through one of these programs. The state’s “provider tax” that supports MinnesotaCare will expire at the end of 2019. In addition, federal funding for MinnesotaCare has been cut. These are already the fastest-growing costs in the state budget. Will MinnesotaCare continue as part of the state’s health care system? How will you get control of these costs? How will you use the state’s buying power to get better health outcomes at better prices?
Getting around, and paying for it
This time of year, we all complain about the condition of the roads and about all of the construction delays caused by fixing them. At the Capitol, there are perpetual fights over transportation. Essentially, there are two fights going on. One is about who should pay — should users pay for transportation through the gas tax or some other user tax vs. paying for transportation through the income tax? And second is over what we should pay for — does “transportation” include buses and light rail in addition to roads?
While these battles rage, neither our roads nor our transit is getting any better. Ask: What’s your solution?
Protecting our water (and the rest of our natural resources)
We may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but 40 percent of our lakes and streams are “impaired” — no longer safe for swimming or fishing. Ask: What will you do to protect our water and us? How about our air, forests, parks, etc.? Can we have both healthy natural resources and a sound economy? How?
The odds are pretty good that no matter who wins, we will still have the Republicans running some parts of state government and Democrats running the others. The result has been some of the least productive legislative sessions in history. How can you make state government work when those before you could not? And what about election reform — things like redistricting and ranked-choice voting?
Running the state without on-the-job training
Most of the people running for office have never run a state government. Sure, most have participated in some aspect of government, but not running the whole state. That’s not uncommon. In fact, most newly elected governors do a pretty lousy job in their first year. It’s as though they campaign like crazy for a job and then spend the first year learning (at our expense) how to do it. What are you doing now to be ready if you win so we don’t need to watch you flounder while you are learning the ropes?
Paying for it all with no new money
Within 15 weeks of winning the election, the new governor must present a proposed two-year budget to the Legislature. It must cover all aspects of running the state and account for the use of more than $100 billion in revenue.
On the day of the election, every single dollar of anticipated revenue will be spoken for just to pay for what the state has already been doing in the way that it has been doing it. The next budget will start with the last one, then add costs for inflation and for additional people to serve, and then add more costs for newly mandated programs. By the time that is done, all of the money will be gone. There will be no money lying around to fund the many, many promises the candidates are making.
For every promise we need to ask: How much will it cost? How are you going to pay for it given that there will be no money available in the budget?
Elections are important. Important enough that we should ask the people running for governor and lieutenant governor what they are going to do to make our state work. If they can’t tell you in plain language, don’t vote for them.
Peter Hutchinson is a former state commissioner of finance, former superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools and in 2006 he was the Independestance Party candidate for governor.