An Economy That Works for All of Us
While Minnesota is subject to the economic winds that blow throughout the country, we don’t have to accept what gets blown our way. Minnesota’s policy choices impact whether Minnesota does better than the national economy or lags behind. Minnesota can, and must, build an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well connected.
We can foster opportunity for Minnesotans who want to get ahead and will work hard to do it. We can continue to attract and retain talented workers who will build our future economy. We have the ingredients. What we need is the will.
Minnesotans of all ages, in every part of the state, are struggling to get by in this economy—often by patching together part-time jobs and working longer hours. Wages are rising more slowly than the cost of living.
Though Minnesota’s unemployment rate is at an historic low, and employers say they can’t find enough people to work, too many people are struggling to find a job that supports a decent standard of living. Many people are also burdened with student debt they can’t afford to pay.
About 15% of Minnesota’s children live in families earning less than $24,000 per year (below the poverty line for a family with two adults and two children). But even those families with somewhat higher incomes live paycheck to paycheck.
Republicans in Congress and the President just “reformed” the Federal tax code in ways that give enormous benefits to corporations, exploding the federal deficit by $2,200,000,000,000 ($2.2 TRILLION) over 10 years. Now they want to “pay for” the shortfall with cuts to programs that Americans need. In Minnesota, the Republican legislature is going down the same path. They want to “reform” Minnesota’s tax code to cut taxes again so the wealthy won’t pay any of their windfall to Minnesota along with taking more money for roads and bridges out of the general fund rather than pay for it with transportation taxes, and then say we must cut spending on health care and other things that help the rest of us.
Our children face worse economic prospects than their parents and we are in danger of losing our middle class. Many retirees can barely make it on Social Security and their meager savings. Minnesota government must help level the playing field so everyone shares in the economic life of our state.
Health Care for All ⌄
Minnesota must move to a system of universal, single-payer health care. We must eliminate the “middleman” between people and the health care they need.
Minnesotans should not have to worry about getting the health care they need—yet this is the reality for too many. For some, the cost of insurance is too high. For others who have insurance, the out of pocket costs are more than they can afford. For those on public programs, getting care can still be a challenge.
In Minnesota, as in the rest of America, our system wastes about a third of every health care dollar to figure out who should get care, how much, and at what price. Minnesota can lead the nation in moving toward a system where people can choose who provides their health care but don’t have to choose or deal with insurance companies. Whether we call this “single payer,” "Medicare for All," or "Universal Health Care," we must remove the barriers between Minnesotans and the health care they need.
We can start here by getting insurance companies out of our public programs. Minnesota contracts with insurance companies to cover the 1.1 million Minnesotans on Medicaid or on MinnesotaCare, our public health care programs,. These companies then contract with doctors, hospitals, and others to provide care. Even Minnesotans on a public health care program must deal with insurance companies, while health care providers must deal with multiple insurance companies for patients on public programs.
It is time to cut out the middleman. Our state can take back control and improve our public programs by contracting directly with healthcare providers on behalf of patients. The only thing stopping us is the power that these big insurers have over Minnesota’s government.
We can also allow Minnesotans to buy health insurance through the public MinnesotaCare program. MinnesotaCare has been offered in Minnesota for about 27 years for low-income working people who could not otherwise afford insurance. Governor Dayton has proposed that all Minnesotans be offered the opportunity to “buy-in” to MinnesotaCare at full cost. Republicans oppose this idea, most likely because the insurance industry opposes it.
The Republican solution to skyrocketing health insurance costs has been to attack the Affordable Care Act and attack MNSure (which is a place to buy insurance that does not design policies or set rates). In 2017, the Republican-led legislature spent $800 million to subsidize the insurance companies in hopes they would reduce premiums for the 2.5% of Minnesotans who buy insurance entirely from their own pockets, but consumers have seen little benefit.
In 2018, Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have focused on ways to kick people off of public health insurance instead of helping more Minnesotans get access to health care. This cynical plan tries to pit Minnesotans against each other by promoting the myth that some people are getting something they don’t “deserve,” and it moves us in the wrong direction.
I believe that essential healthcare is—or should be—a human right. Making high quality healthcare accessible and affordable to all would be an enormous boost for Minnesota’s economy, because healthy people are more productive, and no one would be stuck in the wrong job just for health insurance. We can create a Minnesota health care system that is high quality, affordable and easy to access FOR ALL if we have the political will to do it.
A Fair Tax System ⌄
Minnesotans are willing to pay taxes, so long as our taxes are fair and our money is used well. In a fair tax system, those who earn more pay a larger percentage of their income. Minnesotans who are doing well must pay their fair share of taxes so Minnesota can create services and conditions that give everyone opportunities to succeed.
Adding a “fourth tier” higher income tax rate for the wealthiest Minnesotans was a good start. The next step should be to remove outdated, unfair tax breaks that favor the wealthy and don’t move our economy forward from Minnesota’s tax code.
A Minimum Wage That’s a Living Wage ⌄
People who work full time should be able to meet their family’s basic needs, but many can not. When employers are permitted to pay wages that are too low to live on, taxpayers must fill the gap with food support, housing support, health insurance support, and support for other needs. This subsidizes employers and undermines the dignity of the worker.
I’m proud to have voted to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage and to have it apply equally to tipped employees, but we must continue to raise the minimum wage until all full-time work in Minnesota pays a living wage. In 2018, a typical family of three must earn over $17 per hour (two parents working 60 hours per week) to provide for the bare necessities of life. We must also strengthen other workplace rights, such as earned sick time and paid family leave. These benefits help everyone —because no one wants a sick waiter coughing on their food. So let’s allow everyone the dignity and security to get better at home or have the time to get needed healthcare, then return to work healthy and productive.
Unions created the middle class by organizing for better wages and working conditions, but union membership has eroded. I support and defend the right to organize and bargain collectively, because this is one of the best tools we have to raise work standards and give Minnesotans a chance at a better future.
High Quality Child Care ⌄
Every Minnesota child deserves the best possible start in life. High quality child care is essential for most Minnesota families. Parents can’t focus on work or school unless they know their children are in a safe and supportive place, but high quality child care is in short supply and, even where available, too often unaffordable.
We must support many models of child care—from home day care to Head Start—so families have convenient and high quality options. Minnesota has a Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to help more working parents afford the cost, but it is underfunded and leaves many struggling families without help. Building an excellent, affordable system of day care and support for our youngest kids is one of the most important things Minnesota can do for our future.
Fully Fund Public Education ⌄
Funding for Minnesota’s public schools has not kept up with inflation, which shortchanges our students. As state support has fallen, school districts must try to get more of their funding from local property taxes, so schools in communities without a big tax base don’t have enough resources for their students. Fully and appropriately funding our public education system at the state level will help all students succeed. We also need to have enough school counselors and other support professionals help students make sound education and career decisions based on their interests and talents and remove barriers that keep students from achieving their dreams.
Minnesota’s constitution says: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.” Minnesota must live up to this promise.
Extending Public Education for the 21st Century: No-Cost College Credits and Relief for Student Debt ⌄
In the 21st century, careers that can sustain a family require education beyond high school. Though we spend millions helping students get free college credits through the Post-Secondary Education Options program most students don’t use the program. All Minnesota students deserve the opportunity to go to college or get career skills. Making the first two years of post-high school education at a public college, technical college, or university FREE to Minnesota students would take pressure off struggling families while ensuring our workforce is well trained for the needs of the economy.
Many students are already buried in debt, which is holding back our entire economy. I support loan forgiveness programs for graduates who work in geographic areas or professions (such as teaching) where there are shortages.
A Government That Works for All of Us
Too often, Minnesotans don’t see government working for us. We work more jobs and longer hours just to stay afloat and worry what the future will be for us and our families. We see large corporations and other special interests speaking loudly and being heard in government, while our concerns are too often ignored. We need a government that works for all of us, not just the rich and powerful.
How We Do It
Get Big Money Out of Politics ⌄
We need to get the big money out of politics so politicians respond to voters, not dollars.
Minnesota already provides some public financing for state campaigns that agree to restrict campaign spending, and state law restricts how much an individual can donate to a campaign, but these programs are constantly under attack. Even with this financing, special interests overwhelm candidates’ campaigns through “independent expenditure” groups, whose backers are not disclosed.
The US Supreme Court opened the floodgates of special interest money with the Citizens United opinion and Minnesota cannot overrule it. However, we can insist on knowing who is behind the big spending and work on other ways to make sure that the voice of the voter—not the big donor—is the one that’s heard.
High Ethical Standards and Transparency ⌄
We must promote high ethical standards and transparency for all who have the honor to serve the public.
Our laws permit public officials to take trips—junkets—that are paid for by foundations or other organizations (though not those paid by lobbyists or an organization sponsoring a lobbyist). These organizations include ALEC, an organization of large corporations that writes corporate-friendly legislation for legislators (almost always Republicans) to introduce in their states. My amendment to require disclosure of these trips by members of the Minnesota House was voted down by Republicans.
Not all sponsored trips are bad, but the recipient should be required to disclose these benefits to the public.
We must make sure that the wealthy and well connected play by the same rules as everyone else.
Public money should be invested only where the public—not billionaire owners or another special interest group—reaps the primary benefits. This is why I voted “no” on the Vikings and Twins stadium deals.
Diversity and Justice ⌄
Our diversity is our strength, but Minnesota’s gaps in health, wealth, and opportunity are holding us back. Peaceful civil disobedience has often been the catalyst that moves society toward justice. We don’t need additional penalties or threats to those who step forward to make change. The right to protest—and sometimes even to get arrested for it—strengthens our democracy.
The well-publicized police killings of African Americans and the killings of police officers have torn the bandage off an old and festering wound. We must create a culture and system that allow for fair and just treatment of all Minnesotans. Law enforcement officers have a tough job, but they must always be held to high and clear standards and accountable to the public.
We need a new standard for the use of force by law enforcement officials—as exists in other countries. Officers should be expected to control a situation without using deadly force except as a last resort. This means staying out of harm’s way themselves unless there is an immediate threat to life.
Our civil forfeiture laws have been improved in recent years but still need reform. Police departments and prosecutors should never get to keep the proceeds from forfeiture, as they do now. This improper incentive only serves to erode trust in law enforcement.
Protect Our Environment ⌄
WWe need not choose between jobs and protecting our environment. Minnesota cannot let corporate greed steal our children’s inheritance. Before we allow corporations to exploit our natural resources, we must make sure the environment is protected and that sufficient financial guarantees are in place to pay for any cleanup. After the fact, we must hold them accountable for any harm they caused. Too often, polluters have made their money and left the cleanup to the taxpayer. We Minnesotans love our natural resources and will have to stay vigilant to make sure we keep them.
Climate change has advanced rapidly in recent years. Reducing greenhouse gases to reduce climate change must be an urgent priority. In 2007, Minnesota passed a renewable energy standard of 25% by 2025. Many utilities are close to achieving the goal, but we can and must do even better. I support the current proposal for 50% of our energy to come from renewables by 2030. This is not only better for our environment and Minnesotans’ wallets, it creates good paying jobs. Clean energy jobs grew 78 percent from 2000 to 2014, compared to total 11 percent for total employment in the state.
Our children deserve to grow up in a healthy environment, whether they live in the city, the country, or somewhere in between. Clean water, clean food, and clean air should be their birthright.
Free Speech and Right to Privacy ⌄
We must protect the freedom of every Minnesotan to speak their mind, maintain their privacy, and make their own important decisions. Government should not infringe on personal decisions that don’t impact the health and safety of others—such as who to love and marry, whether and where to worship, which bathroom to use, and how and when to reproduce. I fully support a woman’s right to choose, and to have a full range of respectful, supportive health care services that help her avoid unintended pregnancies and to have healthy pregnancies when she decides to do so.
End Prohibition of Cannabis ⌄
The war on drugs has failed—costing Minnesota taxpayers too much and destroying too many lives. It’s time to remove the prohibition on personal use of cannabis and treat addiction as an illness, not a crime.
Alcohol is harmful to many, causing untold damage to lives and property every year. Yet alcohol is legal, because our nation learned the hard way that prohibition only makes the problems worse. It is time to apply that lesson to cannabis. Cannabis is much safer than alcohol. While it is not harmless for everyone, prohibition of cannabis has not worked and causes far more harm than the drug itself. Minnesotans spend perhaps $700 million per year on illegal cannabis, which they buy without knowing the dose or purity of what they buy. Cannabis prohibition also contributes to racial disparities in our state. Blacks use cannabis about much as Whites but are arrested for it about 8 times as often. We fill expensive prison cells with people who do not belong there and with more minority Minnesotans than whites. Without prohibition we could do a better job keeping cannabis away from children and educating our population on how to use it responsibly and with regard to the rights of others.
Minnesotans should have the opportunity to decide whether to legalize personal use of cannabis under a careful system of regulation and taxation. Law enforcement should have a voice on drug policy, but never a veto.
Minnesota has fewer felons in prison than most other states, adjusted for population. Still, too many inmates have substance abuse disorder or other mental health issues that would be better treated in another setting. Treatment courts are a step in the right direction, and we must encourage and fund these initiatives. We also need to make sure that people who have been through the justice system can find a path back to a productive life. Lack of housing, lack of needed treatment, and lack of employment are barriers to reentry that must be addressed. Another barrier to reentry is loss of voting rights. People who serve time in jail or prison should have their voting rights restored when they get out—and not have to wait until they are finished with probation or parole.