27B candidates differ on state’s direction
Published 10:30 am Thursday, October 16, 2014
Schminke looking to restore balance to St. Paul; Poppe: Investing in people is right decision
One candidate wants to return to St. Paul and continue guiding Minnesota in the right direction, while another wants to help shift the priorities at the Capitol.
The Austin Area Chamber of Commerce and KAUS Radio hosted a cordial debate between incumbent Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, and Republican challenger Dennis Schminke of Austin Wednesday at the Holiday Inn Conference Center as the two vie for the Minnesota House District 27B seat.
While Poppe admitted there’s things to improve in St. Paul, she said recent decisions by the DLF-led Legislature are guiding the state in the right direction. She spoke of her decision to support funding for all-day kindergarten as a key step toward closing the achievement gap. She also touted a two-year freeze on college tuition as an important step to let young people become educated without burdening themselves with more debt. She also supported her decision to vote for increasing the state’s minimum wage.
Email newsletter signup
Poppe admitted the state Legislature raised taxes, but she said they did it openly and honestly as a way to invest in people.
“I think the state is going in the right direction, and I think it’s important for us to have taken the time and the money to invest in human capital,” she said.
For Schminke, he’s looking to bring balance to St. Paul after the DFL majority made decisions he said will hurt the long-term prosperity in the state.
“For a long time, Minnesota’s been a high tax, heavy regulatory state,” he said. “It’s a tough place to get things done.”
Schminke said Minnesota is lagging behind neighboring states private sector job creation, and he also noted he wants to help people get jobs and be prosperous.
“Republicans want to help people,” he said. “We want to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt the people that we help.”
Schminke said the state government took a wrong turn a few years ago, and he argued the key to prosperity is reducing the tax burden and making leaders in St. Paul set priorities for spending.
“I’d like to go up there and restore some of the balance,” he said.
The hour-long debate was moderated by KAUS Community Service Director John Wright, with more than 25 people in attendance.
Budget, taxes and economic development
While Poppe admitted the Legislature raised taxes last session, she said it was done openly by closing corporate loopholes and through a small increase on the top 2 percent to fund all day-kindergarten; to fund a two-year college tuition freeze; to put money into the budget reserve; tax relief for seniors, renters, people with disabilities and farmers; along with some bonding projects.
“Investing in Minnesota and investing in human capital of those who live in Minnesota I think is an important investment for us as a state,” she said.
To Schminke, the budget is driven by revenue.
“If you put money in hands of government, rest assured it will be spent,” he said.
Schminke said the state should act more like a family or business and live within its means and prioritize. Schminke questioned some funding decisions, including the Minnesota Vikings Stadium funding plan, which he described as sketchy, and he questioned bonding dollars for civic centers and the $90-million Senate office building.
“I think the state just has to set its priorities,” he said. “I just don’t think you raise taxes $2.1 billion to close a $630 million deficit.”
Poppe argued the state DFL was frank about raising revenue, and she admitted there are still things to fix but that they’re on the right path.
“When it comes to investing in people and investing in things that are important to the people of Minnesota, I think that we have done what the state and many of the people in the state have asked us to do,” Poppe said.
As for job growth, Schminke spoke about bringing the corporate income tax down or removing the state portion of the commercial and industrial tax, noting that Minnesotans must be mindful of the things going on in the states around us to ensure companies don’t end up nearby in a neighboring state.
“States with high taxes and heavy regs [regulations] are slower growth,” he said.
Schminke is a proponent of jobs as a fix for many of the state’s problems.
“Jobs create prosperity — that’s the cornerstone of this campaign,” Schminke said.
Despite an aging population, Poppe said the state isn’t bringing enough young people back home to fill job vacancies.
“Certainly, if we can educate them locally, they’re more likely to stay here,” she said.
There has to be incentives here to attract people back for jobs, Poppe argued.
The state increased minimum wage earlier this year from $6.15 per hour now to $9.50 by 2016 and then tied it to inflation, a bill that Poppe voted for.
“It’d been almost 10 years since we increased it, and I would say it was a abysmally low,” Poppe said.
Poppe argued people with jobs need to be able to pay their bills, otherwise the state is supporting them through food stamps, housing support or other kinds of assistance.
Schminke said Minnesotans will have to wait and see on minimum wage, but he expressed concerns that young people won’t be able to get their first jobs as employers may be more hesitant to hire new workers.
“If you don’t get the job, you don’t move up,” he said.
Schminke said he’d want to get rid of the automatic escalators, because he thinks they can get out of control.
Schminke said he would not have jumped into MNsure like Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL did, but he doesn’t know quite what can be done on a state level, noting it’s a federal issue.
“I think it has sown the seeds of tremendous budget strains on the state of Minnesota almost into perpetuity,” Schminke said.
“All I can say about MNsure is, ‘We’ll see,’” he added.
Poppe said people across the country are looking for affordable health care and the ability to go to the doctor.
“As a state, as a nation, we needed to take care of our people,” she said. “And health care is one of those things.”
Poppe noted people on Medicare are getting care through a federal program, and she said Medicare people feel like they can go to the doctor now that they’re on that coverage. That shouldn’t be limited to seniors, she argued.
“That kind of opportunity for health care should be available for moms and dads and middle income people as well as young children,” she said.
Schminke argued the Affordable Care act is not affordable and that premiums are increasing and are higher than they were before. Costs in southern Minnesota for MNsure have been high due to a lack of competition, since Mayo is in control of much of the medical care in the area, so Schminke said the state should be looking to add more competition.
Poppe also noted Mayo is the big driver in southeast Minnesota, and she said the company announced Medica plans for families earlier this month to help reduce the costs.
Though he doesn’t think the Affordable Care Act was the answer, Schminke admitted the nation must do something to address the uninsured, and especially the uninsurable.
Poppe admitted the MNsure rollout wasn’t smooth, but she argued it’s important to have people insured who weren’t before and added it should make for a better and stronger future for health care.
“There’s a lot of benefits to it,” she said. “I know there are still problems with it, but there are a lot of benefits and I think that’s what we have to be looking at.”
Poppe noted all people have a stake in health care and need to do whatever necessary to improve their own health.
Schminke and Poppe agreed education will be vital for the state’s future, and both agreed four-year degrees may not be the best way to improve education.
“I think this is a place we probably agree a lot,” Schminke said. “College is not for everyone.”
Schminke said businesses need to be at the table to say what kind of skills they need from the workforce.
Similarly, Poppe referred to the skills gap and the need to fill jobs as the baby boomers age, noting many jobs will require technical skills and there’s not as many K-12 opportunities to start training for welders, mechanics and other skilled jobs at a younger age.
Both supported PSEO education opportunities as a way to start job training earlier and potentially save money.
College is costly, Schminke noted, so other options may be beneficial to avoid student debt. Still, he said reading, writing, math and science are still vitally important for all jobs.
Both Schminke and Poppe said the state is probably spending enough money on education, though Schminke questioned if the money is going to the best places.
Poppe said it’s important to give teachers the tools and resources and support they need to be successful.
Schminke supported assessments for students and teachers as a way to see what’s working and where to improve. Poppe supported some assessments but argued they can go overboard, as she preferred tests that show how individual students are doing rather than how well entire grades are performing.
“You want to know how your own child is doing and how well they’re succeeding,” she said.
With several reports showing the state’s road and infrastructure needs will be underfunded by billions of dollars in the next 20 years, transportation will be a key issue for whomever is elected.
With the state heavily dependent on the federal Highway Trust Fund, Schminke noted the state may need to spend a bit more to get things where people want; however, he added state leaders will need to prioritize projects.
“We need good roads and bridges especially out here in the rural,” he said. “That’s how we move people where they need to be and the things that we produce.”
While Poppe said highway funding needs to be addressed, she said there isn’t one magic bullet. Poppe touted the Corridors of Commerce, a program that gives bonding dollars to construction projects, as a step in the right direction.
Both said the state must prioritize and both supported a plan for the Minnesota Department of Transportation to add 5 percent to its budget by improving efficiencies. Schminke said the state needs to keep MnDOT honest and accountable when it comes to efficiencies. Poppe said MnDOT and all state workers should be mindful they’re spending taxpayer dollars and should always work to improve efficiencies. But when asked, she wasn’t sure if the state should jump to trying improve MnDOT efficiencies by 15 percent instead of 5 percent.
“Let’s make sure they’re doing their 5 percent first,” she said.
Poppe noted there are a high number of roads in southern Minnesota, which creates more challenges. She said technology could play a role in fixing the issues.
Poppe and Schminke noted mass transportation isn’t just a Twin Cities issues, as local transit authorities provide transport to rural citizens. Schminke, however, did not support the light rail expansion in the Twin Cities, while Poppe was more open to the idea, stating the state will need to look at what young people want and will use.
Schimke is a retired Hormel Foods Corp. worker with a background in accounting and finance.
Poppe, a counselor at Riverland Community College, is seeking her fifth term. She is the Ag Policy chair and serves on the serves on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance; Higher Education Finance and Policy; and the Ways and Means committees.