Questions for the candidates: Mark Dayton

  • Updated: October 10, 2010 - 8:23 AM

Mark Dayton, DFL 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?

Experts say Minnesota's economy performed worse than the nation's because the housing boom collapsed earlier here. Our recent improvement parallels the national average, after excepting the poor performances of a few large states like California.

Credit our rebound to the quality of our workforce and the resilience of our companies. Minnesota's largest employers -- in health care, education and financial services -- have been more resilient than companies in other parts of the country.

Even so, 200,000 more people live in Minnesota today than when Gov. Tim Pawlenty took office, yet fewer people are working. Almost twice as many people are drawing unemployment now as during the previous high in July 2003.

That is why I believe state government, like the federal government, must do everything within its power to accelerate our economic recovery and help create jobs for Minnesotans. A bonding bill next January, taking advantage of low interest rates, would put an estimated 28,000 people to work in the construction industry. New transportation and transit projects not only will create jobs but also will help people and products move more efficiently throughout Minnesota.

An Energy Savings Loan Fund would put thousands more people to work renovating public buildings throughout Minnesota for better energy efficiencies and could save taxpayers millions of dollars through lower operating costs.

We need to help small businesses grow by cutting red tape and expanding access to credit. As governor, my No. 1 job is putting people back to work. I will go anywhere and do anything I possibly can to bring new jobs and new companies to Minnesota.

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?

Minnesota's great strength has always been the quality of its workforce, and that workforce is the cornerstone to our future competitiveness.

In the short term, we need effective worker training and retraining strategies. These training programs succeed if they are measured by the people they place in good jobs, and if they are designed in close collaboration with employers, so we train people for the next job, not the last job.

Longer term, we must have the world's best education system. Georgetown University's Center of Education and the Workforce Report predicts that by 2018, 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota will require postsecondary educations.

A well-educated, highly productive workforce has been our greatest economic strength. That is why we cannot permit the current decline in our commitment to education to continue. Classes are too big, tuition is too high, and our students are not prepared for college and work. We need to invest more, expect more and get more in order to give Minnesotans the skills they need to be successful in a fiercely competitive global economy.

Finally, Minnesota must be able to attract and retain the skilled, diverse entrepreneurs and workers who will drive our global competitiveness. We must offer these talented, inventive, diverse people -- people who could choose to work anywhere -- a great place to live: inclusive, affordable, clean and green. The next governor needs to lead to sustain the Minnesota that can attract and retain these talented people.

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?

This failure is unacceptable. It is both our moral responsibility and key to our future that we provide all our children with the educations they need to achieve their full potentials.

To close the achievement gap, we must start early in life and sustain our effort. Effective early childhood programs are crucial to enable every Minnesota child to arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. We should provide state funding for optional all-day kindergarten for all of our schoolchildren. Some say that we cannot afford to meet this challenge. I say we can't afford not to. If Mississippi and Alabama can provide all-day kindergarten for their students, why can't we?

Every student must read at or above grade level by the end of each grade. Every eighth-grader should be proficient in math. Every young person needs to graduate from high school ready for higher education.

Educators know what works to achieve those goals. They know that children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, achieve better results in smaller classes. They know that individual diagnostic testing, especially at the beginning of the school year, enables teachers to identify each student's learning needs and differences. Individual or small-group special help can overcome those learning difficulties, so that students are proficient by the end of the year.

As our great former senator Paul Wellstone said: "We all do better when we all do better." As governor, it will be my responsibility to ensure that all of our children do better.

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

Skyrocketing health care costs are stifling business and job growth and threatening the financial security of middle-class Minnesotans. Something is fundamentally wrong when hardworking Minnesota families -- even families with health insurance -- are forced to choose between getting the health care they need and buying food, paying their mortgage or helping their children through college.

I believe every Minnesotan should have access to quality, affordable health care. I want us to examine all options for providing a comprehensive system of financing health care for everyone.

In the meantime, we need practical solutions that can be implemented now. Here are a few tangible next steps:

As governor, I will reduce health care bureaucracy and eliminate excessive paperwork that wastes paper, time and money. Doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and caregivers in nursing homes all agree this is a huge problem. With this kind of consensus, we should be able to find a solution.

We need to provide more options for health care consumers. As governor, I'll support health care insurance pools that school districts, small businesses, farmers and self-employed Minnesotans can opt into. This will help spread out risk and leverage our buying power to lower costs.

I will reestablish the Health Care Help Line I started when I was a U.S. senator to stand up for Minnesotans who were unfairly denied the health care they needed and their doctors had prescribed by their insurance companies. My office helped more than 2,500 Minnesotans recover more than $2 million in health care claims wrongfully denied by private insurance companies.

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?

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Minnesotans who are 65 or older will increase by 40 percent. This means we need to change the same old way we have been doing things. For example, there are common sense -- and cost-effective -- solutions to help our elders live at home longer. Minnesota has made significant advances in its utilization of "Elderly Waivers," which fund home- and community-based services for people age 65 and older who need the level of care provided in nursing homes but who want to continue to live in their communities.

Advances in technology can help people keep track of their elder parents who are living independently with the confidence that their parents will receive immediate help in emergencies. This approach is a win-win; it expands options for people and saves money.

If I'm governor, my lieutenant governor, Yvonne Prettner Solon, will establish a "Seniors Service Center" in her office, which will provide one toll-free number that seniors can call for immediate help with state or federal programs or other needs. Our center, too, will help our seniors live their retirement years with peace of mind and security.

We also need to think more broadly about the tremendous assets that our seniors bring to their communities. People past the traditional retirement age of 65 still have major contributions to make -- as business leaders, advocates, classroom volunteers, mentors to small businesses, and contributors in the arts and civic endeavors. Most retirees have many years of energy and experience still to offer their communities. We all stand to benefit enormously from their contributions.

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?

During this campaign, I've hosted 111 community meetings and have talked with thousands of Minnesotans, yet I can count on one hand the people who think they are getting better service from state agencies now than they used to.

Too often agencies have overlapping jurisdictions, so citizens or businesses need to go multiple places to get their answers. Often the problems are in the back offices of state government, where old computer systems and outdated processes have become inefficient. Minnesota has lagged other states in adopting modern administrative systems that provide operational efficiencies and save taxpayers money.

Multiple layers of management also slow state agencies down. There has been a wasteful increase in political appointees in recent years. The result is too many people directing, and not enough people doing.

I am the only candidate for governor who has ever headed a state agency, and I have led three of them. For me, redesign is a strategy, not a slogan. In each agency, I brought in the best available professionals, who shared my commitment to providing the people of Minnesota with the best possible services at the lowest possible cost.

As governor, I will look for help from businesses that have successfully redesigned their operations. My uncle, Douglas Dayton, spearheaded Gov. Wendell Anderson's program of loaned executives to help state agencies streamline and improve their operations in the 1970s. As governor, I will reinstate that effort and bring the best ideas from the private sector and from other states into the redesign of Minnesota government.

  • ABOUT THIS SERIES

    Today, with former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton'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. Answers from Republican candidate Tom Emmer appeared last week, and answers from the Independence Party's Tom Horner are still to come. As always, we invite readers to join the discussion by sending submissions to opinion@startribune.com.
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