6 questions for the candidates

  • Updated: October 2, 2010 - 5:21 PM

Today: Tom Emmer, Republican Party

Through much of the last decade, for the first time in memory, job and income growth in Minnesota lagged national averages. Yet in the Great Recession of the past two years, the state has seen employment recover more vigorously than in the nation as a whole. How do you interpret this pattern, and what economic policy responses do you believe it requires?

Minnesota has an extraordinary history of entrepreneurial innovation and business success. Over the past two years, we have seen Minnesota businesses continue that tradition. However, our continued economic success has been hampered by the high costs, regulatory impediments and indifference of state government.

State taxes and regulations discourage many businesses from expanding here and discourage entrepreneurs from starting a new business in the first place. We have called for reducing three major taxes; for expanding tax credits and exemptions; for reforming public education for long-term competitiveness, and for reforming the state government's regulatory processes and bureaucracies to lessen the burden on businesses and investors. Our jobs creation agenda not only provides tax cuts for employers, but it is part of a complete and balanced budget that keeps government living within its means.

We need reform to encourage a strong business economy and create jobs. This reform needs to reach every corner of our state, into every industry and every business large and small so that we can achieve a technological, industrial and agricultural business renaissance here in Minnesota.

The most important task of the next governor is ensuring that businesses can create jobs for struggling and anxious Minnesotans. We must allow job creators in the private sector to do what they do best.

Despite its comparatively healthy recovery, Minnesota is suffering a job shortage right now. Yet experts tell us that a shortage of skilled labor will soon emerge as a larger and more persistent drag on this state. What must the next governor do to avert the long-term worker shortage, even as he addresses the near-term unemployment problem?

Creating a stable and growing economy must be the first priority of our next governor. Improving our economy and reforming our education system ensures that our children have the best opportunities to succeed in a global market -- once again making Minnesota a place people from around the world chose to live, work and raise their family.

Even if we achieve everything we hope for -- redesign of government, igniting Minnesota's job creation engine, a rebirth of entrepreneurial activity -- it won't amount to much if we don't lay the foundation for the future of our kids. There are 850,000 students in our public education system. We have a responsibility to make sure that they have even better opportunities for success than you and I had.

In the next few years, we need to make 50 years' worth of progress in our education system; we need a 21st-century education model for a 21st-century economy. The challenge we face today isn't about accounting or dollars spent, it's a challenge to fundamentally change how we teach our kids to succeed in the modern world. We have one goal in our reform plan: improving educational outcomes for our students. That means improving education through long-overdue reforms, which is why we have laid out an ambitious education reform agenda. Our vision for real reform focuses on three main pillars: improve teacher and school accountability; address teacher effectiveness, and facilitate innovation within our current system.

The educational achievement gap between white and nonwhite Minnesota students is wide compared with that in other states, and troubling considering the growth in the nonwhite population. What steps must Minnesota take to strengthen achievement among minority pupils, and what is the governor's role in making it happen?

As a candidate for governor, I recognize that the state's achievement gap is unacceptable, and that we must immediately address the social and economic impact it is having on our state.

We must ensure that every classroom has an effective teacher and that every school has an effective leader. Research has shown something that parents have known for years -- effective teachers are the single largest factor in increasing student achievement and closing the achievement gap.

That's why we need to create Urban School District Empowerment Zones. In exchange for developing a real plan to address the achievement gap, we should give our urban school districts the power to do what they need to achieve their goals.

That power includes freeing school districts from a number of state and local mandates, including collective bargaining provisions that interfere with the ability of schools and teachers to improve student achievement.

In addition, we need to set a solid foundation for our kids so they are ready to learn when they reach our K-12 education system. Literacy should be the goal -- and we should be ensuring that our kids are on the path to being fully literate students and citizens.

What concrete, practical and achievable steps should Minnesota government take to slow the growth of health care costs in the state?

Minnesota has the best medical care in the world, and some of the highest insurance participation rates in the nation. We need to build on what works instead of tearing it down and building something completely different. Current state health care programs are on track to bankrupt state government, and yet they still don't meet the needs of all our citizens. It is time for reform.

There are things government can do to help reduce health care costs. We can give individuals the ability to deduct health insurance premiums just like employers, decoupling health care and employment. We can give consumers more ownership by allowing them choices. Choices in coverage and choices among health insurers allow consumers to tailor coverage to meet personal needs and give them the ability to shop from among the 1,300 health insurance products available across the country.

Minnesotans have a lot to be proud of. We have the Mayo Clinic, the largest private employer in the state. People from around the world fly to Minnesota to get healed. We have Medtronic and Boston Scientific, Allina and Park Nicollet. Health care is one of the few economic sectors that is growing steadily. Whatever we do, let's make sure that we don't break what does work well for Minnesotans.

What must Minnesota do now to prepare for the dramatic aging of its population expected in the years and decades ahead -- which could, among other things, increase long-term care costs and cut tax revenues?

Minnesota is the best place in the world to live and raise a family. It is also the best place to retire, and more Minnesotans will be doing so in the coming years. That will mean fewer Minnesotans in the workforce and more demand for government services.

Raising taxes isn't the answer to these demographic changes -- growing our economy and creating new job opportunities is. Minnesota has to become more competitive, more productive and more attractive to new and established businesses. Economic growth will result in population growth to fill the economy's need for a skilled workforce. Higher taxes are a short-term fix that will create greater problems in the future.

Workforce quality will become more important than ever. Reforming our education system to ensure more accountability and better results will help. The better educated our workforce, the higher our productivity will be. And more productive workers are better paid, which in turn will generate the revenue to fund what we expect from government.

A robust economy will provide the foundation for a better future. Higher taxes and more government are a recipe for a slower economy and fewer jobs for Minnesotans.

There's been a lot of talk about redesigning and reforming the way government functions, both to save money and improve service. What's the most promising redesign idea on your list, and how will you overcome political or practical obstacles to ensure that it comes to pass?

Upon entering the Legislature, I was surprised to find that the most important budget bills were left until the end of session, sometimes literally until the last minutes of session. These bills, with spending totaling tens of billions of dollars, were not read, were not vetted and often had long-reaching consequences for Minnesota that were not fully understood when they were voted on.

This was particularly troubling when the state faced a looming budget deficit. Much of the legislative session was wasted on non-essential bills and hearings that should instead have been focused on balancing the budget.

I believe we need to implement a "first things first" approach to state government. When operating under a budget deficit, fixing the deficit should be the focus of the legislative and executive branches. That is why I have proposed in the past, and will propose again, guidelines to make the budget the priority. Under this proposal, the governor will have the ability to declare a fiscal emergency. Under a fiscal emergency, the Legislature may not present a bill to the governor until it has presented the governor a bill or bills to address the fiscal emergency. This will help both the executive branch and legislative branch to focus on the budget and stop wasting time on noncritical legislation when their only job should be balancing the budget.

It is a major reform of the way the governor and the Legislature do business. It will offer the opportunity to enact true budget reform, avoid political gridlock and encourage politics as usual to be set aside in order to better serve Minnesota.


    Today, with Rep. Tom Emmer's responses to questions posed by the Editorial Board, Opinion Exchange continues its series "It's About the Future," examining challenges to Minnesota's long-term well being and the leading gubernatorial candidates' plans for meeting those challenges. In the weeks ahead, we'll present the other major-party candidates' answers to the same questions. As always, we invite readers to join the discussion by sending submissions to opinion@startribune.com.
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