Will our economy give everyone a chance to get ahead, or will it pick a few winners and leave everyone else behind?
In January, Democrats will take office and face the challenge of creating a better economy for all Minnesotans. We must address the worry that undermines our confidence in the future: Will our economy give everyone a chance to get ahead, or will it pick a few winners and leave everyone else behind?
Answering this question will be the chief task of the House Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs. As chair of this committee, I plan to start a healthy debate and elicit good ideas about getting more Minnesotans better-paying jobs. Here are some ideas about where to start:
Minnesota has succeeded when the hard work of its citizens has paid off and when people could find good-paying jobs. This put Minnesota's median income among the top 10 states. Now, fewer people are participating in the workforce than at any time in the last 30 years, and Minnesota's median wage has slipped out of the top 10. Poverty rates have doubled in the last decade as too many Minnesotans have fallen out of the middle class.
Minnesotans want to work hard so they can provide for their family and enjoy a high quality of life. They deserve to be paid a wage they can live on.
We should consider a higher state minimum wage that will keep up with wage growth. We could subsidize companies when they train Minnesotans for good-paying jobs, rather than giving them tax breaks when they move jobs offshore. And when companies do lay off people, we could require more warning and better training afterward.
It is important that the business community engage in this discussion, because the status quo is not serving our businesses well. Too many Minnesotans are falling out of the middle class, and this weakens our economy. We need to find the balance where Minnesotans can earn a decent living to support their family, which in turn supports a healthy and growing economy in Minnesota.
Minnesota has succeeded when it has led the world in high school graduation and in access to college and technical training. Today, we have among the worst achievement gaps in the nation. The fastest-growing communities in Minnesota are not getting the education needed to compete in this economy.
Early learning puts kids on the path to achievement -- the research proves it. We must commit to ensuring that every kid comes to kindergarten ready to learn. K-12 schools need steady state funding that will not create patchworks of "have" and "have-not" districts based on property tax values.
Every kid should be able to earn a career certificate along with his or her high school diploma, and whether it is a technical certification, an associate's degree or a four-year college degree, we must ensure that all workers have the training and education needed for the global economy. And it must be affordable and accessible for all Minnesotans.
Minnesota has succeeded when it has been a research magnet. Job-creating products like pacemakers and taconite resulted from the state's focus on research and development.
In 1972, we were ranked 20th among the states in research dollars per capita. Today, we are 40th. We are living off our parents' investments, and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to make Minnesota a research leader for the next generation.
Finding new, better ways of producing products and delivering services creates jobs. Minnesota has untapped research potential at higher-education institutions around the state. One idea is to use state dollars to encourage innovation by expanding research that will lead to job growth.
We should also look at tax reforms such as redirecting money spent on special corporate carve-outs to reduce corporate tax rates for all businesses, which will support small-business growth. Spurring innovation will produce successful businesses and good-paying jobs.
The new Democratic Legislature must build for the future, not just fix the problems of the last 10 years. Balancing the budget and cleaning up the state's finances is essential, but it is not sufficient to address the economic challenge we face.
We cannot miss this opportunity to advance an agenda that puts our state back on the road to prosperity. Democrats must deliver on a prosperity agenda.
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Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, is a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and is the chair of Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs.
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