My worry regarding the achievement gap is that we don’t seem to be willing to try significantly new things. I’m not an anti-union guy. But the fact that the teachers’ union has so much control in this administration is really concerning to me. I think it’s why we haven’t made significant changes.
To me, it’s more about teachers in the classroom than anything else. There’s much we can do at the state level to give our schools the power and the flexibility to reward, hire, retain and pay better the very best teachers, and we’re not doing that right now. We’re going in the opposite direction. The tenure reform bill would have said if you have to lay off a teacher, you can look at more than just how long they’ve been there. That bill made sense, and the governor vetoed that bill.
One idea that comes from New Jersey and California is the parent trigger. It says that if your kid is in a chronically failing school, the parents have some real power to change things. They are essentially community organizers who can decide what happens. There’s a menu of options, and parents get to decide. There’s one idea to which I’d be very open.
I’m interested in vouchers. But my preference would be tax credits, because I worry that vouchers will allow government to start having more control over private schools that are seeing success. I’m doubtful that anytime soon we’re going to have a system in Minnesota where (state) money really follows the kid. Many of our public schools are doing a fantastic job. But in some parts of the state where schools are showing poor results, I’d love to see parents having more choices. And I think most of them would choose to have more control over the school their children are already in. Most people would rather change their neighborhood school than ship their kid across town.
The governor had two years to prepare for real tax reform, and the couple of little pieces of reform he came up with, he got beaten up for. I’m disappointed. The governor had an opportunity, especially with an all-DFL Legislature and having spent two years preparing for tax reform, [but] his plan had almost no reform in it. It was a huge tax increase. That’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a way to be more competitive with other states that surround us.
I’d want a two-year process to develop a plan. My starting point would be the Vekich commission report (Governor’s 21st Century Tax Reform Commission, 2009).
It recommended a sales tax on clothing, along with a lower sales tax rate. I’m not one who says we have to have a clothing tax. But I believe it’s something we have to have in the mix of ideas. We have to look at every option.
My job will be to work with the stakeholders and try to figure out what is realistic and doable. Is there a way to lower and broaden and simplify the tax code? I hope there is, and I’m going to be pushing it hard. The role of a governor is to create a climate in this state that’s inviting to entrepreneurs to start a business, or to our existing businesses to expand. We’re seeing too much expansion outside of Minnesota. Tax competitiveness is a big part of that.
I believe that we spend too much in state government. The (biennial) general fund has gone from $30 billion to almost $40 billion in four years. I don’t see how anyone can think that’s responsible.
Efficiencies aren’t the answer. You can save millions of dollars there, not billions. The No. 1 solution is reprioritizing. When I look at the fact that we have increased general-fund spending in the past four years by almost 25 percent, it would suggest to me that we have money in the system to do one of the most basic functions of government: roads and bridges.
I’m open to much more significant bonding. That would require a constitutional change for state highways, but not for county and municipal roads. I would probably advocate for that change.
I have no interest in raising taxes, including the gas tax. We have the money to do what we need to do.
If you can show me a cost-benefit analysis that says that rail makes sense for taxpayers, I’m all ears. I haven’t seen that yet, so I’m skeptical. With light rail, I look at what congestion relief does it provide, compared with the cost. I recognize that we spend a lot of money on roads and road upkeep, and none of that is free. But the vast majority of people in the metro area will always drive their cars. To believe that half the people are going to ride transit is not realistic.
I have a huge bias toward buses, including BRT (bus rapid transit). I voted recently to spend $6 million in property tax funds on bus rapid transit — the orange line. I told someone, “Trains are a way to trick conservatives into supporting buses.” We absolutely need to be multimodal in the metro area. But right now, all of the energy is on everything but roads and bridges. I don’t think that makes sense.
ON HEALTH CARE
There’s a section in the Affordable Care Act called state innovation waivers. They don’t kick in until 2017. If you as a state can show that you can continue to cover everyone who was covered under the ACA as it is, but you can do it in a different, more innovative way, they will consider granting a waiver to parts or all of the Obamacare requirements. I will start that process immediately. But that will be two years away, at least.
I’d prefer not to have a government-run exchange. I’d love to have the private sector set up an exchange that anybody could get into. The more we could move to the free market, to allowing more [insurance] options, cheaper options with fewer mandates in them, I’d favor that. We have to have more trust in people making wise decisions, especially when it comes to health care.
I don’t think the MNsure board is competent. I would seek to remove them all. The fact that they are still saying that the rate increase for next year will be 4.5 percent, when everybody knows that is completely bogus, shocks me. We’re going to see spikes in premiums like no one ever expected. They’re going to kill a lot of families in this state. And we have a MNsure board that doesn’t seem to realize that or care about it. I’d replace the top staff there as well.
My goal will be to appoint people who understand that more competition within the exchange is a good thing, and we should be restricting it as little as possible. I don’t believe the MNsure board should have a waiver from normal rule-making rules that every other agency has. The more public input we have, the better. I would seek a bigger board, so we could have more consumer representation.