The children of Southeast Minnesota are our greatest asset. Their future is crucially dependent on the educational opportunities they are provided. Fully funded preschool and K-12 education will ensure we cultivate the bright minds needed to keep our region competitive and flourishing. Investing in education is an investment in our economy. Its far-reaching effects strengthen every economic sector and industry in our state.
Early Childhood Education
Early learning opportunities provide the foundation upon which all students build their future. Access to early childhood education is proven to significantly bridge achievement gaps. Multiple studies show that the achievement gap widens as students move through grade levels. We should be working on preventing an achievement gap, not trying to fix it in hindsight. Without fully funded early childhood education, not all students are provided the chance to begin their K-12 schooling on equal footing. Permanent state funding needs to be secured for preschool for all children in Minnesota. I will work arduously to make sure that every child has access to a strong educational start.
Well-funded K-12 programing provides numerous benefits to our children and society. It equips students with the essential academic preparation that incorporates the technological knowledge needed in our rapidly evolving global economy. It provides them with a setting in which to develop socially and emotionally to become happy and productive members of society. Most importantly, it cultivates in them a passion for life-long learning. As such, our teachers have one of the most important roles in our communities. The recruitment, professional development, and retention of educators needs to be at the forefront of our educational planning in Minnesota. I will listen to teachers’ and families’ ideas surrounding the creation and funding of educational programming. Teachers’ advice must be given serious consideration when determining the most effective use of tax dollars in their classrooms. When our state supports educators with the resources they need to succeed, our students can achieve their full potential.
Our schools deserve a state funding system that does not require school districts to continually put forth referendums to raise money. Moreover, vouchers are not the answer to the economic issues facing public schools; funding public schools is the answer. I oppose vouchers because I believe they are in direct violation of the separation of church and state. They take money away from our struggling public schools, they have been shown to negatively impact student academic performance, and they often place special needs students at a disadvantage. Student achievement should be the driving force behind any education reform initiative.
Investment in our public school systems can be used for a variety of services to benefit our communities at large, thereby increasing the return on taxpayer dollars. Our schools are being asked to provide additional resources to students and their families. A solution can be found in full-service community schools that form a partnership with the local community by integrating academics, family support, health and social services, and community development. Resources at our public schools are currently being stretched very thin to manage many areas, particularly to meet students’ mental health needs. Having more funding to do so effectively reaps long-term benefits that go far beyond a person’s school years. Full-service community schools enable people to see the link between a supported public school system and a healthy community.
We are incredibly fortunate to have three institutions of higher education in our corner of the state: Minnesota State College Southeast, St. Mary’s University, and Winona State University. These institutions provide a wealth of resources to the students who have the privilege of attending them and to our communities in general. These campuses need the flexibility to meet the changing needs of the future. To ensure the strong educational, economic and cultural contributions of these institutions amid shifting demographics, I will advocate for greater campus autonomy for our public college and university. Local determination of academic programming that is responsive to the specialized industries and needs of our region is essential.
Post-secondary education should not result in unreasonable debt. How are young people and non-traditional students expected to take on tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt with unreasonable interest payments? Student debt is a direct result of the state’s failure to keep its promise to fund two-thirds of the costs of higher education. Bonding has provided great resources for local higher education capital projects; however, it does not address the debt load that students take on for tuition and expenses. In years past, Minnesota state colleges and universities were affordable centers of education. Now, their costly tuition is prohibitive to many individuals and families. Investing in education yields the highest returns for our communities. We must be willing to guarantee access through affordability.
Now more than ever, Minnesotans need affordable health care that is accessible to everyone. Simply put, no one should have to choose between buying groceries for the week or paying for a day’s worth of prescription medication. No one should have to decide between receiving treatment for a chronic illness or paying their mortgage. We live in the wealthiest nation in the world, and these are not acceptable dilemmas. All residents of Southeast Minnesota deserve access to adequate and affordable health care and prescription drugs. Placing the financial gains of insurance and pharmaceutical companies above people’s wellbeing is unconscionable. It’s also unnecessary.
Minnesota has been a national leader in expanding coverage and access to health care. As a result, we boast one of the highest rates of insurance coverage in the nation at 94%. However, the cost of this coverage has spiraled out of control. In 1998, $16 billion was spent on health care in the state of Minnesota, and family premiums for health insurance were approximately $5,000 per household. Nearly 20 years later, these numbers tripled. In 2017, over $50 billion was spent in the state of Minnesota on health care, and families spent over $19,000 annually on premium payments, not including their out of pocket expenses such as deductibles and co-pays. If we continue down this path, by 2027, as a state we will be spending nearly $98 billion on health care, with family premiums reaching $35,000 per year. Healthcare prices are rising faster than our economy is growing.
There are multiple factors contributing to the exponential growth in healthcare costs and spending. These causes include innovations in medical technology and administrative costs. However, other drivers of the steep increase in costs are the numerous mergers in the healthcare industry that have stifled competition, provider control of healthcare pricing, and patent protections on key drugs. I will work hard to engage our local healthcare providers and insurance companies in inclusive solutions that lower patient costs. This does not mean eliminating private insurance but rather preventing healthcare providers, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies from forming regional monopolies in our state. This way, a stronger free market is established for private insurance and healthcare delivery, allowing for the creation of more and better options. People need choices to decide what works best for them, their individual healthcare needs, and those of their families.
We are all susceptible to poor health, and the proper treatment of an illness or condition should never be determined by the amount of money in our bank accounts. Minnesota’s Medicaid program, Medical Assistance, needs to be protected and well-funded for people in low-income brackets. The Health Care Access Fund (HCAF) is responsible for funding Medicaid, MinnesotaCare, and other public assistance programs. This year, the two percent provider tax that funds HCAF is set to expire, leaving a hole in the Medical Assistance budget. Without the revenue, HCAF will not be able to continue operating at its current capacity. I will support the proper funding of this much needed program.
Many individuals and their families earn just above the limit for Medical Assistance but cannot realistically afford private health insurance. These hard-working Minnesotans go uninsured, delay or forego care, and are unable to pay medical bills. According to a state report, over one-third of Minnesotans have delayed medical treatment because of the cost they would have to pay. One-half of those who delayed treatment had a serious or somewhat serious condition or illness.
Similarly, there are many small business owners who are uninsured and who cannot afford to offer health insurance to their employees. Not only does this put their health at risk, it places their businesses at a disadvantage when competing with larger companies that can afford to offer benefits and paid leave. Hard-working people and their families should not be shouldering the burden of an unfair system, and locally owned businesses should not be put at an economic disadvantage. A public option for these individuals to buy into MinnesotaCare would tremendously alleviate this economic strain.
It’s important to recognize that there is no silver bullet to fix these issues. However, the answer to addressing the rising costs of our complex healthcare system can be found in working productively with healthcare providers, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies to affect better solutions. As a state, it’s critical that we properly invest in preventative and wellness care—including public health and social supports—focusing on what keeps people healthy. Second, we need innovative approaches that will change the way the system currently operates. Third, we need to make sure that any changes we make are supported by data that demonstrates cost reduction. I will work so that all residents of Southeast Minnesota have access to the health care they need.
The COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated just how important a healthy community is to our economic wellbeing. Our incredible healthcare professionals and emergency responders across the state are putting their health in jeopardy to save lives, and their dedication is heroic. This pandemic has magnified the fault lines in many state healthcare systems when it comes to preparedness and protecting these professionals. It has laid bare the disparities in access to treatment for many individuals who have fallen ill. The lack of federal leadership on this public health emergency has required states to manage this crisis largely on their own. The steps that Minnesota has taken over the years to expand coverage and access to health care is saving lives. As a state, we must continue to make sure everyone who needs treatment can afford access.
Southeast Minnesota has an incredibly unique natural environment, and we’re fortunate to live in such a beautiful area. Our great outdoors provide us with a rich quality of life for everyone to enjoy. Climate change is one of the greatest issues impacting our planet, including our corner of the state, and it benefits us all to safeguard our environment for generations to come. Protecting the environment supports many of the values we hold dear. As Minnesotans, we value conservation and fairness, a healthy family life, economic security, preparedness, and the heritage and legacy of our state’s great wilderness areas.
For generations, Minnesota farm families have worked hard to provide food for our state, the nation, and the world. Our farmers have faced a string of very challenging years. Climate change adds to an already difficult farm economy resulting from decisions and trade policies made on the federal level. Instead of an additional challenge, combating climate change can be an opportunity for Greater Minnesota. We need to enact policies in our state, such as those outlined in the Rural Green Partnership, that will provide our farming communities with opportunities to prosper.
Our state must work in partnership with farmers to foster green development in our rural communities in ways that provide the struggling agricultural sector with more steady revenue streams. These agricultural climate policies should include investing in the rural infrastructure needed for green economic growth: broadband expansion, carbon dioxide pipelines to transport captured carbon, and an expanded electrical grid. We need to incentivize and promote new clean energy development and innovations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through leveraging zero- and low-interest loans, tax credits, and grants. Additionally, we need to improve conservation programs that are respected by farmers so that incentives to adopt practices that retain carbon in the soil, prevent erosion, and increase crop resilience can be adopted efficiently. In order for this to take place, increased research funding for farming practices and clean energy technologies must be a priority. Moreover, we need to provide the local technical assistance required to ensure that research outcomes are transferred effectively to our rural communities.
Our natural habitats are one of our greatest resources in Minnesota. They are irreplaceable and must be protected. I will work to safeguard funding for conservation. Specifically, in 2008, voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to amend the Minnesota Constitution in order to protect, enhance, and restore Minnesota forests, wetlands, and prairies, in addition to fish, game and wildlife habitats. It also restores and protects our lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater and drinking water sources. This funding goes to support parks and trails. Further, the amendment was designed to preserve arts and cultural heritage. Its passage into law is an example of how people with varied interests can work together to advance the greater good.
Another conservation fund that is currently at risk is the lottery-financed Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. In 1988, Minnesota voters approved a constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of state lottery proceeds to this trust, and since its initial passage, over $700 million have been invested into more than 1,700 environmental restoration and research projects across the state. Currently, the Republican-led Senate is placing these funds in jeopardy, leaving $64 million in dedicated environmental funding unspent at a time when our environment and economy need it most. Republicans in the Senate are attempting to divert these voter-approved funds meant to protect, enhance, and restore Minnesota’s environment to instead pay for wastewater infrastructure projects. These constitutionally dedicated environmental accounts do not exist to finance infrastructure. Minnesota pays for wastewater facilities through bonding revenue. If there is not enough funding for wastewater infrastructure, our Republican Senate leadership should address appropriate bonding levels and not pilfer constitutionally protected funds for the environment. This funding is important in Southeast Minnesota to remove invasive plants, improve water quality, and clean up toxins.
Studies have shown that we need to cut our energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030, halve them again by 2040, and reach net-zero emission levels by 2050 in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change. To achieve this, our state must promote and fund industrial energy diversification into low-carbon technologies such as wind, solar, and geothermal. Renewable energy is the least expensive source of new power generation. Clean energy yields an economic return three to eight times higher than the initial investment when taking into consideration avoided health and social costs from reduced air pollution. This investment also greatly contributes to mitigating the financial risks of climate change associated with events such as catastrophic flooding, which is a serious concern for communities in Southeast Minnesota. Investing in a green economy helps our overall economy grow in Minnesota because the number of jobs created in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors directly leads to local employment opportunities for skilled labor, management, engineering, marketing, sales, and entrepreneurship.
A green economy creates jobs and leads to an expansion of a variety of employment opportunities in our region. The top two fastest growing occupations in the U.S. are solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians. When looking at the overall energy sector and taking into consideration transition-related jobs, such as those needed for infrastructure and grid expansion, employment growth increases considerably. This modernization of our infrastructure is key to generating employment, adding to the vitality of our regional economy. To achieve this growth, we need to ensure that affordable training and educational opportunities are a supported component of job creation in the renewable energy sector.
Climate change creates numerous challenges, and we need a multi-faceted approach to properly address these realities. As communities throughout our region are struggling with managing and financing the increasing costs of updating infrastructure, funding for bonding bills needs to take into account the additional costs of mitigating the challenges presented by climate change. For example, our region is experiencing a greater volume of watershed, and this additional water flowing under bridges compounds rising costs in infrastructure construction and maintenance. Additionally, our state-funded infrastructure needs to maximize the technological advances of new materials that decrease our carbon footprint, such as cement formulas that capture carbon and the use of recycled steel. For a vibrant state economy that competes globally, Minnesota can be at the forefront of utilizing this technology.
Transportation currently makes up the largest portion of Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions. Our state passed legislation in 2007 calling for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, at our current emission rate, we will not meet our target. Although there has been a significant decrease in carbon emissions in the electric power sector by replacing coal plants with renewable energy sources, transportation-related emissions remain problematic. We can transition the transportation sector away from fossil fuels by incentivizing the use of electric vehicles and the capacity to charge them with renewable energy. The Clean Cars Minnesota initiative was set forth by Governor Walz to enact low-emission vehicle (LEV) standards to ensure that gasoline cars continue to become more efficient. The initiative also sets zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) standards that require car manufacturers to begin shifting their sales towards emission-free vehicles. This is a gradual transition. It does not mean that Minnesotans will have to give up their current vehicle or purchase a new one; what it will do is require dealerships in Minnesota to offer in their inventory a certain percentage of zero- and low-emission vehicles. To better facilitate this transition, we need to incentivize and increase investment in mass transit, such as low-emission bussing, to better connect communities to jobs. Further, funding for greater mass-transit, including the passenger rail, needs to be placed at the forefront of our transportation infrastructure planning as a viable means for our region’s economy to expand through its connection to the Metro area.
Farming is the backbone of our economy in Southeast Minnesota, and we all have a stake in making sure that our farmers have the resources they need to profitably produce food that can be sourced to regional, national, and international markets. The agriculture industry contributes $75 billion to the state’s economy annually. However, for the past five years, there have been record low levels of profitability for Minnesota farms with many farmers losing money on their crops and/or livestock. The difficult economic situation facing many farmers in our area has been exacerbated by decisions made on the federal level, such as trade policies. Our Minnesota legislature must work diligently to provide our farmers with the necessary resources to alleviate these hardships.
Farmers are experiencing their lowest income levels since the 1980s. Adjusting for inflation, in 2018 the median Minnesota farm income fell to its lowest point in 23 years. In 2018, the median net income was $26,055—down 8% from the previous year—with farmers in the bottom 20% losing nearly $72,000. Minnesota farmers continued to struggle with low profits in 2019. Though up slightly from the previous year—the median net farm income was $36,211—gains were marginal at best. Last year in Minnesota, 28% of farms lost money, 46% did not earn enough to make debt payments, and 45% saw a decline in working capital.
Many hard-working farm families are living an unsustainable situation in which they are unable to earn back the money that it takes to produce the milk, meat, or crops that are their livelihood. This string of difficult years has grave financial implications for farmers, their families, and our rural communities. Dairy farms have been hit particularly hard. Over-production and trade issues have impacted milk prices, causing many dairy farmers in our area to sell their herds. These kinds of difficulties are not only felt financially but emotionally and psychologically as well. As such, access to affordable health care that is inclusive of mental health and suicide prevention support needs to be made readily available in our farming communities.
Affordable health care is a critical concern for Minnesota farmers, particularly the steep hike in premiums and escalating deductibles. Farmers need to be able to buy reasonably priced plans because healthcare costs overwhelm individual family budgets and strain farm operation costs. Many farmers are concerned about the financial impact a major illness or injury would have on their ability to continue farming. Making health care affordable is vital so that these costs can be more easily integrated into farmers’ business and risk management planning. With 82% of Minnesota farmers over the age of 45, an aging population is more prone to health conditions that require costly care. Farms should be on a similar playing field with other small businesses for accessing group insurance at more reasonable rates. Further, a public option for farmers to buy into MinnesotaCare would be a tremendous step toward mitigating this economic strain.
As businesses owners, Minnesota farmers need high-speed internet access to remain competitive in an increasingly technology-reliant industry. Expanding rural broadband produces strong economic benefits for our area. Broadband access will help farmers maintain competitive business operations, thereby expanding opportunities for young farmers and maintaining family farms for generations to come.
Due to the economic hardships facing farmers, I support lowering property taxes on farms by expanding the School Building Bond Agricultural Credit (Ag2School). We should continue to shift the funding of public K-12 education from being heavily reliant upon property taxes to a state funding formula. This not only lightens the financial burden on farmers but also improves the school districts attended by their children and grandchildren. A large percentage of the total income for many farm families comes from off-farm sources. The financial costs of education should not be disproportionately placed on the shoulders of families struggling to make ends meet.
Making economic troubles even more challenging, Minnesota farmers have begun facing the effects of a changing climate. Our farmers need support to adapt to an environment with unpredictable weather patterns. Rural landowners can be partners in attempting to reduce the worst effects of climate change. Training and funding for practices such as no-till farming, cover cropping, and diverse crop rotations must be made easily accessible to farmers.
A comprehensive approach is needed to address the difficult issues farm families face, including: access to affordable health care; increased broadband service to all rural areas; incentives to utilize farming practices that address climate change; lowering property taxes on farms; and investment in programs that provide access to new markets, including niche markets that can diversify the farm economy. The farm crisis is complex and will require multifaceted solutions.
The agriculture sector provides more than 340,000 jobs for Minnesotans. This is an industry we all rely on. Farmers work hard to make sure our families have food on the table. Our legislature should work equally hard to make sure farm families have successful and secure futures.