Commentary: A DFL Legislature Looks to the Future

Article by Paul Thissen in Star Tribune. Read the original article here.


At their best, elections are about our shared future together as Minnesotans.

Over the last several months, I've had the privilege of talking to Minnesotans across our state. True to form, they're hopeful about the future. They feel the state is finally headed in the right direction, but they're also clear-eyed about the challenges we continue to face.

Above all, they want their leaders to talk practically and honestly about the future - how we continue to grow our economy so that more and more Minnesotans share in the prosperity of this recovery.

That's been my priority as Speaker of the House, and working with Gov. Mark Dayton over the last two years, the DFL-led Legislature has moved Minnesota closer to that goal.

We prioritized education - funding free all-day kindergarten and freezing college tuition, both of which will save families money. We raised the minimum wage and enacted stronger equal pay laws that will help women, and their families too.

One hundred eighty-thousand more Minnesotans can now see a doctor or nurse when needed. And we strengthened our long-term-care system so seniors have more security and choice.

Importantly, we did this all within a responsibly balanced budget. The $2.2 billion the previous Legislature borrowed from our schools has been repaid, and we put $150 million more into the rainy-day fund to prevent future borrowing. And, yes, we raised taxes on the wealthiest and closed corporate tax loopholes, but we also cut middle-class taxes and reduced property taxes statewide for the first time in 12 years. Indeed, nonpartisan fact-checkers confirm that many more Minnesotans will see lower taxes, not higher, as a result of the last two years.

But we also know that it is not enough to run on past accomplishments, especially because many middle-class Minnesota families are still concerned about their own economic futures. As candidates, it's important we tell Minnesotans our ideas to build a better future. Our DFL legislative candidates are doing just that. For instance:

1) A DFL Legislature will continue to lead on college affordability. We propose to continue our tuition freeze for another two years, which would mean keeping tuition flat for all four years for students entering a public college in 2013. And we're proposing innovative ideas for reducing already-accumulated college debt for recent graduates who are willing to serve their community or take high demand jobs or start new businesses in Greater Minnesota.

2) A DFL Legislature will build on the recently passed Women's Economic Security Act by pushing for greater workplace flexibility for women and families. Ideas like earned sick leave, paid parental leave, more affordable health care and more help with the costs of child care are priorities. A DFL Legislature will also make sure that we do not go back to the days when health insurers could charge women more than men for basic health care.

3) A DFL Legislature will continue to make sure our parents and aging loved ones can live out their golden years near their families and with security. "Informal caregivers" - women and men taking care of their loved ones at home - save taxpayers hundreds of millions each year. But they experience significant economic, physical and emotional costs. Tax credits and other community support for informal caregivers should be at the top of the list.

4) Last but certainly not least, a DFL Legislature will continue to make investments in our state's infrastructure. In the last two years, we invested three-quarters of a billion dollars in infrastructure improvements, from fixing potholes to adding new highway lanes to making a historic first investment in broadband Internet access for rural Minnesota. But in 2015, our top priority will be enacting a transportation bill that meets our state's long-term needs for safe and well-maintained roads and bridges, as well as transit options that meet the needs of everyone from millennials to our aging population.

I'd ask every Minnesotan to contrast those forward-looking priorities with the case Republican candidates are making to voters this fall. If you do, you'll see they've offered no new ideas and refuse to talk about the future. Instead, Republican legislative candidates are claiming that so-called "balanced government" is the answer to all our challenges.

The Minnesotans I've spoken with don't care about empty political talking points, though. They just want their government to work - and work for them. And it did over the last two years, finishing ahead of schedule on an agenda that Minnesotans broadly support. In contrast, the so-called "balanced government" of 2011-12 only brought us Washington, D.C.-style gridlock and the longest government shutdown in state history.

And so, we all have an important decision to make on Tuesday - a choice between further progress for Minnesota or gridlock; a choice between the future and the past. Let's choose the future.