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MN2020: Journal http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal A weekly column by Executive Director, John Van Hecke Fri, 10 Jul 2020 23:51:36 -0500 Closing Minnesota 2020: A Farewell from John Van Hecke http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/a-farewell-from-john-van-hecke http://mn2020.org/8831 <p> By John Van Hecke, Senior Fellow & Founding Executive Director </p> <p> Minnesota 2020 moved Minnesota&rsquo;s public policy debate forward for seven and a half years, from 2007-2014. Hundreds of volunteer writers, researchers and activists helped millions of Minnesotans focus on what really matters: education, healthcare, transportation and economic development. As a result, 2014 Minnesota looks different and better than 2007 Minnesota.</p> <p> Conservative &ldquo;no new taxes&rdquo; policies were all the rage. Implementing those policies carried consequences. By 2007, Minnesota&rsquo;s roads and bridge infrastructure were rapidly crumbling and, in the tragic case of the I-35W bridge, literally falling apart. Minnesota&rsquo;s school funding was declining annually. Minnesota&rsquo;s economy, like the national economy, was cooling and about to tank with the 2008 recession. Healthcare costs were spiraling beyond working families&rsquo; means. Policy leaders were more concerned with preserving wealth&rsquo;s privilege than creating opportunity for working families.</p> <p> Minnesota 2020 changed that. Beginning with Minnesota 2020&rsquo;s first report, &ldquo;Chasing Smokestacks, Stranding Small Business: Rural Minnesota&rsquo;s Crisis,&rdquo; Minnesota 2020 carefully examined the controversial conservative &ldquo;JOB-Z&rdquo; business subsidy policy. Following publication, which included recommended retasking JOB-Z funding into more cost-effective, stronger regional business development initiatives, Executive and Legislative support for JOB-Z quietly disappeared.</p> <p> That first report established an analytical template. Minnesota 2020 researchers examined Minnesota&rsquo;s property tax system; surveyed Minnesota&rsquo;s county engineers, finding widespread concern with road quality; and made the financial and economic development policy case for increasing Minnesota&rsquo;s minimum wage.</p> <p> Seven and a half years later, the public policy landscape looks better. Minnesotans have a substantially more fair state income tax structure. Minnesota&rsquo;s minimum wage is climbing. Minnesota&rsquo;s school funding decline has been reversed with more state resources flowing to public K-12 and higher education schools. Minnesota is back to work; unemployment levels are back to pre-recession numbers.</p> <p> Many people made these changes happen but Minnesota 2020 gathered economic data, crunched the numbers and made the public policy case for policy change. We traveled Minnesota, sharing our findings and explaining state policy&rsquo;s impact at the local level. We published over 30 reports and thousands of articles, digging into the who, what, where, how and why of public policy consequences.</p> <p> Remarkably, Minnesota 2020 vigorously engaged Minnesota&rsquo;s public policy debate without rancor, ad hominem attacks or personal slander. It didn&rsquo;t call people names, proving that Minnesotans appreciate objective, data-driven policy analysis. The same could not be said of Minnesota 2020&rsquo;s critics.</p> <p> While Minnesota 2020 closed on September 30, 2014, Minnesota 2020&rsquo;s body of research remains as a beacon of hope and achievement, of insight and conviction facilitated by hard work. Every published word is available here. Use it to learn about Minnesota&rsquo;s policy past. Use it to guide future research. Building a stronger, better Minnesota never stops.&nbsp;</p> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 16:17:13 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Why We Fight http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-why-we-fight http://mn2020.org/8640 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Today, Friday, August 1, Minnesota&rsquo;s state minimum wage rises for the first time in 9 years, increasing from $5.15/hour for small employers and $6.15/hour for large employers, both below the federal $7.25/hour minimum wage, to $9.50/hour. The wage hike didn&rsquo;t happen casually. It took a concerted, intensive, multilayered effort and almost failed multiple times.</p> <p> Minnesota&rsquo;s minimum wage history challenges Minnesota&rsquo;s progressive self-identity. Before the 2005 minimum wage increase, previous action occurred in 1998 when Minnesota&rsquo;s minimum wage moved to $5.15/hour. Before that, it was increased in 1991.</p> <p> While it&rsquo;s true that, <a href="http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2014/02/minnesota-s-troubled-past-minimum-wage-leader-outlier" target="_blank">historically</a>, Minnesota was an early adopter of minimum wage laws, the contemporary period has been a different story. As worker productivity expanded, along with rising business profitability, the state&rsquo;s business lobby aggressively worked to portray minimum wage increase attempts as job killers rather than work rewarders.</p> <p> During this past spring&rsquo;s legislative fight, Minnesota 2020<a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/economic-development/who-benefits-demographic-impact-of-a-950-minimum-wage" target="_blank"> researchers</a> calculated that, had Minnesota 1968 minimum wage&rsquo;s purchasing power remained constant, Minnesota&rsquo;s 2014 minimum wage would be $10.70/hour. Had minimum wage gains kept pace with productivity increases, the wage would be a current $22/hour.</p> <p> As wages stagnated, post-recession profitability rewarded the wealthiest Minnesotans. Wealth accumulation across the United States, narrowed into fewer and fewer hands while school funding declined, city services decreased and families bore a growing percentage of structural community costs through soaring property taxes.</p> <p> Conservative policy, positing tax cuts as the solution for every federal, state and local problem, began to wear thin. The 2012 elections returned progressive majorities to the state legislature. Even then, the minimum wage increase didn&rsquo;t occur in 2013. It took a year of additional coalition building, communication and economic research to induce action.</p> <p> Finally, this past spring, the bill passed both state legislative chambers and was signed by Governor Mark Dayton. Now, August 1, the measure becomes state law.</p> <p> This is why we fight.</p> <p> Every August 1, the date when most new legislation assumes the force of law, reminds us of how hard we have to work for what in retrospect seems like simple achievements.</p> <p> One year ago, August 1, 2013, Minnesota counties began issuing marriage certificates that did not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. That was a sea change.</p> <p> The November 2012 election featured a state constitutional amendment that would&rsquo;ve written Minnesota&rsquo;s then-standing state law requiring that marriage only be available to persons of opposite gender into Minnesota&rsquo;s constitution. Growing national challenges to marriage discrimination had convinced conservative policy leaders to enact constitutional amendments as a strategy to create a high barrier to change. Passing a law is difficult; repealing a constitutional amendment is near impossible under most states&rsquo; constitutions. <a href="http://www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl/mngov/constitutionalamendments.aspx" target="_blank">Minnesota</a> is no exception.</p> <p> However, in 2012, 52.6 percent of Minnesota voters rejected the amendment. Emboldened, marriage equality supporters pivoted their broad coalition into the 2013 legislative to repeal the earlier Defense of Marriage Act, replacing it with <a href="https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=74&amp;year=2013&amp;type=0" target="_blank">legislation</a> specifically <a href="http://mn.gov/mdhr/public_affairs/samesex_marriage.html " target="_blank">forbidding discrimination</a>.</p> <p> This is why we fight.</p> <p> What 2015 legislative session-generated policy change will become law next August 1? I predict paid leave. It builds better businesses, stronger families and stable communities. And, it&rsquo;s overdue.</p> <p> Paid leave is exactly what it sounds like; paid leave exercised under a variety of ill health-related conditions. Sometimes it's maternity leave, sometimes it's caring for a sick child, and sometimes paid leave is used to care for an ailing older family member. Or, most basically, to care for one&rsquo;s self.</p> <p> Listening to conservative policy leaders, you&rsquo;d think that paid leave was the socialist revolution storming city gates. It&rsquo;s not however, nearly so dramatic. In practice, informal paid leave already happens as workers use personal sick days to care for an ailing child.</p> <p> <a href="http://www.edd.ca.gov/disability/pdf/Paid_Family_Leave_10_Year_Anniversary_Report.pdf" target="_blank">California</a> enacted paid sick leave ten years ago. New Jersey and Washington have minimal paid leave laws. New York&rsquo;s paid sick leave law takes effect today. Those four states populations combined mean that 23 percent of Americans now have paid leave. As the National Center for Child Poverty <a href="http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_864.html">notes</a>, states have taken the lead on this issue, leaving federal efforts in the dust.</p> <p> Paid leave overwhelmingly positively impacts women workers as women overwhelming bear a majority of family care responsibilities. Paid leave translates into stronger families.</p> <p> Paid leave is a smart business decision. Worker replacement training costs are mitigated by retaining a strong, skilled and flexible workforce. With rapidly changing competitive business environments, high quality workers are a business&rsquo; most critical asset. Paid leave builds rather than debases that asset.</p> <p> Finally, sick workers in the food and hospitality industry are the industry standard. Smart public health measures reinforce what we all intuitively know: sick workers compromise food safety. Yet, the industry pretends otherwise. Paid leave for a day or two of bed rest benefits the worker, the work team, the business, the customers and, given a little time, the greater public&rsquo;s health. Better health lowers costs, it doesn&rsquo;t raise them. This is why we fight.</p> <p> Raising the minimum wage wasn&rsquo;t easy. Ending the same-sex marriage ban wasn&rsquo;t easy. Despite these achievements, there&rsquo;s much more to do. Minnesota needs paid sick day leave. We build a stronger state, safer communities and secure families one smart policy prescription at time. Next August 1, let&rsquo;s celebrate Minnesota&rsquo;s entry into the paid leave ranks.</p> Fri, 01 Aug 2014 11:00:13 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Another Misleading Conservative “Crisis” http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/another-misleading-conservative-crisis http://mn2020.org/8616 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Minnesota&rsquo;s pension problem is not the problem that conservative policy advocates assert. Rather, our problem is that Minnesota would be better off if more Minnesotans had pensions.</p> <p> Earlier this month, the Center of the American Experiment (CAE) released a <a href="http://www.americanexperiment.org/publications/minnesota-policy-blueprint/pensions-keeping-the-promise" target="_blank">report</a> suggesting that Minnesota&rsquo;s public employee pension funds risk collapse. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, CAE&rsquo;s report misleads Minnesotans, insinuating that state policymakers simultaneously cause and ignore pension problems.</p> <p> There&rsquo;s the rub. State leaders can&rsquo;t ignore something that they didn&rsquo;t cause. CAE&rsquo;s report is conflagration of head fakes, willful misreading of data, and a not-so-subtle attempt to undermine public confidence in government. And, candidly, that&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s really going on in the CAE report. It&rsquo;s not about pensions but an excuse to beat up government and public workers, creating a smokescreen for wealth-favoring taxation policy.</p> <p> Retirement Systems of Minnesota (RSM), the state&rsquo;s umbrella public pension fund management organization, administers Minnesota&rsquo;s three major pension funds. They are the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) and the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA). Each fund has its own board of directors, answerable to pension fund members for fund performance.</p> <p> CAE would like you to believe that RSM is hiding a looming pension funding crisis. In conservative eyes, the sky is always falling. CAE&rsquo;s evaluation of Minnesota public workers pension funds is no exception. They find the disaster they&rsquo;re determined to find. Except, it&rsquo;s not a disaster at all.</p> <p> CAE report author Kim Crockett&rsquo;s central claim is that Minnesota&rsquo;s public employee pension system is broken, facing $17.3 billion in unfunded liabilities. The <a href="http://www.msrs.state.mn.us/pdf/CAEResponse.pdf" target="_blank">actual figure</a> is less than $10 billion. The strongest of three funds, MSRS, projects posting a 91.4 percent funded level this year. PERA and TRA expect to report mid-80s percentages.</p> <p> The unspoken contention is that any pension fund with less than 100 percent funding must be doing something wrong. It&rsquo;s not. A 100 percent funded pension fund is actually overfunded. Investment instruments are designed to meet retirement draw demands for the projected retiree population. Minnesota&rsquo;s pension funds presently perform within established parameters. Pensions, after all, are just one retirement savings element. They&rsquo;re designed to preserve deposited funds purchasing power at the time of deposit.</p> <p> CAE suggests fund mismanagement as the cause of recession-battered pension fund performance. During the Great Recession, pension fund equity took a hit but then so did every stock fund. With improved stock and bond markets performance, pension fund return rates are up. Minnesota&rsquo;s $68 billion in pension fund assets collectively yielded 18.6 percent return, well ahead of the formally targeted 8.5 percent return. CAE&rsquo;s argument only works if we pretend that it's 2009 and the state and national economies are being slammed.</p> <p> CAE&rsquo;s solutions, however, should bear the closest scrutiny. Using carefully worded language suggesting pension fund contributor sympathy, CAE proposes doing less for current pension plan participants while ending Defined Benefit Plans for future public employees.</p> <p> &ldquo;COLAs (cost of living adjustments) should be further reduced on base pensions that received &lsquo;gratuitous&rsquo; investment-based post-retirement increases,&ldquo; Crockett writes in the <a href="http://www.americanexperiment.org/sites/default/files/article_pdf/Pensions%20Final.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>&rsquo;s solutions section. Notice that term, &ldquo;gratuitous&rdquo;? That means uncalled for, unwarranted or lacking good reason. In other words, where pension fund boards voted to do more for pensioners based on fund asset performance, CAE thinks benefit recipients should now be retroactively penalized for the same decision.</p> <p> CAE also recommends, using a bolded font, the immediate termination of new employee enrollment in any retirement plan other than a Defined Contribution Plan (DCP). &ldquo;To stop adding new liabilities to the current system, the defined contribution plan needs to be required for all new employees.&rdquo; This is a backdoor way of radically and unilaterally cutting public worker benefits, violating collective bargaining laws.</p> <p> Lastly, CAE insists that its proposals do not constitute proposed tax increases. Using a conservative policy bait-and-switch tactic, Crockett writes, &ldquo;[suggested policy solutions are] a recommendation to fully fund pensions from existing revenue, which may require spending cuts elsewhere.&rdquo;</p> <p> Catch that? Let me repeat the important, buried part: &ldquo;which may require spending cuts elsewhere.&rdquo; Rather than increasing taxes, the State of Minnesota should cut funds from another budget to meet any future pension fund shortfall, should that happen. This pits public workers against school kids, food inspectors, bridges, invasive zebra mussels and every other state funded activity.</p> <p> Deconstructed, we see the CAE report for what it is, a ginned-up crisis existing only to advance the conservative no-new-taxes agenda. Conservative policy activists have gone to considerable trouble and expense just to argue that Minnesota should tax the highest income earners at a lower per capita rate than Minnesota&rsquo;s middle and low income earners pay. The small government crowd isn&rsquo;t genuinely interested in creating a strong, responsibly compensated professional workforce. Unsurprisingly, their pension crisis concerns ring equally hollow.</p> <p> Minnesota faces a genuine retirement savings shortfall. False pension fund shortfall claims distract Minnesotans from addressing real inadequate financial resources problems. DBPs and DCPs improve retirement savings. DBPs are better for workers. That&rsquo;s why conservatives want to take them away.</p> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:00:03 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Aging in Place is Reasonable, Necessary http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/aging-in-place-is-reasonable-necessary http://mn2020.org/8583 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> A new national survey finds that the most independently minded, unapologetically insistent American generation expects to live in their homes as they age. Baby boomers are, once again, unyielding. That&rsquo;s good news for every Minnesotan, good for our economy and good for healthcare&rsquo;s future.</p> <p> Georgetown University&rsquo;s McDonough School of Business, Global Social Enterprise Initiative, in partnership with consumer and healthcare products giant Phillips NV, released a <a href="http://socialenterprise.georgetown.edu/2014/06/boomers-want-to-age-in-place-but-are-they-doing-anything-about-it/" target="_blank">research report</a> examining expectations about aging and lifestyle. In keeping with established trends, Americans aged 50-80 want more independent living options and strongly value staying in their homes.</p> <p> Significantly, the survey also finds that respondents aren&rsquo;t taking concrete steps to prepare for long-term independent living within aging&rsquo;s reality. The finding reflects a similar pattern in woefully <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/pension-lessons-and-the-coming-retirement-crisis" target="_blank">underfunded individual retirement savings</a>. Wishful thinking rather than action dominates retirement planning.</p> <p> Survey respondents indicate great interest in technology solutions from driverless cars to seamless lifestyle management through online connectivity software and services. Reading between the lines, people reveal a real faith in engineering and technology solutions&rsquo; promises.</p> <p> That&rsquo;s great. I&rsquo;m all for <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=3&amp;ved=0CDIQtwIwAg&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DYjy-fnsmWR4&amp;ei=NprGU8CNFIOUyASa3IDQCw&amp;usg=AFQjCNHsLNZQ8wwPvHf9qwykt3XukaqDjg&amp;bvm=bv.71126742,d.aWw&amp;cad=rja" target="_blank">the Jetsons</a> dream of flying car futures but, speaking as a disabled Minnesotan, let me strongly suggest more initially practical and less expensive first steps: installing grab bars and eliminating small area rugs. Then, we can jump into our flying cars.</p> <p> Consumer technology permeates our lives. This is not a recent development. Human history is the story of human will imposed on nature. We turn natural resources into tools, making our lives easier, meaningful and rewarding.</p> <p> Consider bodily waste. Privy toilets improve on the designated defecation spot in the bushes. Septic systems and large-scale waste-water treatment plants improve on privies. We&rsquo;ve quietly created extraordinary success to the degree that we&rsquo;ve nearly forgotten about the common public health complications of open sewers.</p> <p> Consumer products ease mobility limitations. Without a power wheelchair and an accessible minivan, I&rsquo;d be functionally trapped at home for most of the week. I regularly invest my income in my mobility. Some families have lake cabins; we have an entrance ramp and my power wheelchair. WiFi and smartphones not only make my life safer, they make it productive and rewarding.</p> <p> I have muscular dystrophy, a degenerative neuromuscular disease. I&rsquo;ve had it all my life. Consequently, physical decline and the frustration that entails is a significant part of my life experience. It also means that I&rsquo;m 20-30 years ahead of my peer group in living with growing physical limitations. When it comes to living independently, I have more in common with 80 year-olds, folks 30 years my senior, than with my peer group. I&rsquo;m effectively aging in place, just sooner.</p> <p> And, I&rsquo;ve learned a few things.</p> <p> First, preserve and strengthen existing physical capacity. Walk, exercise and move around. Yes, it may be hard but staying strong pays a life dividend. The body naturally declines; don&rsquo;t accelerate the process. Independent living requires good health while aging. It&rsquo;s as true at 80 as it is at 8.</p> <p> Second, remove household stumble risks like area rugs, terrific candidates for causing falls. Choosing between a broken hip and a cute, thick-edged area rug is no choice at all.</p> <p> Third, install horizontal and vertical grab bars in the shower and bathroom area. Steadiness and the feeling of security while transitioning over wet surfaces is a godsend. You&rsquo;ll be stunned by the range of grab bar designs and finishes. Be sure that they&rsquo;re installed properly and at appropriate heights. You want to live independently? These are the easy, cheap first steps.</p> <p> Long term independent living requires systemic environmental change. This is an investment in your future. Approach it as such.</p> <p> Chances are that your home was built to an earlier and, quite likely, non-existent accessibility standard. Our house was constructed in 1922. Anticipating my physical needs, we renovated eight years ago. We used an architect. It&rsquo;s rare that a week passes that I don&rsquo;t consciously encounter a design choice improving the experience of living in my house.</p> <p> Renovation isn&rsquo;t cheap but it was cheaper than new home construction. We didn&rsquo;t have to change everything but, in effect, we removed and replaced the back half of the house. Most but not all door ways are wider for wheelchair access. Some kitchen counters are lower than others. We have a roll-in bathrooms and shower. Fundamentally, our house is more open, reached by a well-designed front ramp.</p> <p> Driverless cars are a concept. Converted, accessible minivans are a not-inexpensive reality. Basically, buy a minivan and add another $20,000 for the conversion. Aging eventually requires giving up driving, relying on transit options from taxis to trains. Lifestyle and household management devices, linked through a smartphone application won&rsquo;t replace the grocery store run. They will supplement and enhance it.</p> <p> Finally and most critically, public policy is inadequate to the coming need. Aging in place, as opposed to a traditional nursing home, is a decentralized experience. Present policy largely facilitates centralization. Modest but growing homecare assistance is required to live independently with increasingly restricted physical mobility. Current service systems will, I believe, rapidly evolve as market demand spikes but, right now, care consumers only have expensive options while home care service providers are among the lowest compensated workers around. That&rsquo;s unsustainable.</p> <p> Preparing for independent living is an enormously economically stimulating activity. Employing carpenters and home healthcare aides, in concert with supportive public policy changes, creates a wide-ranging investment and retail multiplier effect. Generational transition grows communities; it doesn&rsquo;t undermine them.</p> <p> I&rsquo;m tickled that people expect to age independently, living at home. People are assets, not liabilities. Technological advances serve people, not the other way around. Now, we just need public care and service policy that&rsquo;s as good as the people working hard to find their own way.</p> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 11:00:17 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Rural Minnesota’s Future Challenge, Potential http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/rural-minnesotas-future-challenge-potential http://mn2020.org/8556 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Minnesota will look different 30 years from now. We&rsquo;ll be older and more racially and ethnically <a href="http://www.demography.state.mn.us/documents/SusanBrower_Cargill_Jan2014.pdf" target="_blank">diverse</a> but its where people live and work that really leaps out. Demographic analysis suggest that we&rsquo;re creating two Minnesotas. One will be the growing and employing Minnesota. The other will be a shadow of the first.</p> <p> <a href="http://www.demography.state.mn.us/projections2015-2045.htm" target="_blank">Data analysis</a> from the <a href="http://www.demography.state.mn.us/" target="_blank">Minnesota State Demographic Center</a>, drawing on US Census information, projects that Minnesota&rsquo;s 2015 population will be just shy of 5.5 million. The seven county Twin Cities metro area will account for 2.9 million, representing about 47% of the state&rsquo;s population. Over the next 30 years, that percentage will remain essentially constant. Yet, population is projected to grow by 13% by 2045.</p> <p> Don&rsquo;t be misled by these figures. The Twin Cities is growing at a slightly faster rate than the projected state growth rate. An estimated 2015 Twin Cities population of 2,930,059 will increase to 3,373,252 in 30 years. We&rsquo;re going to feel 400,000 additional people in our schools, on our roads, at community celebrations and in our stores. The population expansion reinforces the seven county metropolitan region&rsquo;s role as Minnesota&rsquo;s economic driver. But, the effective Twin Cities will surpass the seven county metro area, stretching from St Cloud to Rochester.</p> <p> The other great growth areas will be, in keeping with metro growth, southeast Minnesota, central Minnesota and southwest central Minnesota. State <a href="http://www.mnado.org/" target="_blank">economic development regions</a> (EDR) 10, 7W, and 6E respectively. These three regions are projected to grow, from 2015-2045, by 14.6%, 25.2%, and 14.2%, in the same order.</p> <p> Again, don&rsquo;t be misled by these figures. The percentage growth obscures the population&rsquo;s relative weight. The most populous economic development region, the seven county metro area, starts big, grows a bunch and ends big. Combined with central, southeast, southwest central, the four EDRs account for 72% of the state&rsquo;s population.</p> <p> Conversely, Minnesota&rsquo;s least populated areas will lose population during this period or grow so slowly that the growth barely counts. The Arrowhead Region, EDR 3, is projected to decline by 3.5%. EDR 6W, the Upper Minnesota Valley, is expected to grow by 1%. It shouldn&rsquo;t come as surprise that Minnesota&rsquo;s least peopled areas will struggle to hold their own with generational succession. While St Cloud, Minneapolis, St Paul and Rochester become, effectively, a single, continuous metropolitan area, the Arrowhead and western Minnesota will be lucky to hang on to their population.</p> <p> These are very different parts of Minnesota and will experience population stagnation for very different reasons. The Arrowhead combines Iron Range mining, forest industries and tourism. Duluth is the area&rsquo;s service center hub for an EDR population of 332,000. Minnesota&rsquo;s forestry community has traditionally created paper products, specialty papers in particular. But, magazine publishing is in rapid decline and so, too, are specialty papers. Mining is a mature industry with slow growth. Tourism reflects larger economic trends. When people are making money through wage increases and widely shared wealth expansion, they feel more economically secure and spend on travel and recreation. But, the reverse is equally true, resulting in tourism&rsquo;s economic development limitations.</p> <p> EDR 7W is a different story. Roughly 45,000 Minnesotans live in Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac Qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties. Farming is the area&rsquo;s great industry with other activities functioning in support. Farming in 2014 requires many, many fewer farmers than it did in 1914 or even 1984. They&rsquo;re farming roughly the same number of acres a hundred years later, achieving unimaginable output. But, the labor/technology nexus making it possible also limits population growth.</p> <p> Glacial retreat created the Upper Midwest prairie&rsquo;s crop productivity capacity. Only population sparcity limited crop production but even that limitation was toppled as northern European and Scandinavian immigrants populated Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, and Nebraska. While almost anyone could farm, labor shortages limited farm size. The family farm wasn&rsquo;t just a family, it was a production unit.</p> <p> Tractors and other ag machines changed everything. Fewer people could and did do more. Farming&rsquo;s family and community sustainability scale changed.</p> <p> Lac Qui Parle county&rsquo;s population peaked with the 1920 census at 15,554. 90 years later, that figure was less than half the 1920 number. Repeat this phenomenon and you have EDR 6W&rsquo;s story. Technological transformation is affecting both the Arrowhead and the Upper Minnesota Valley regions, just differently. The net result, however, is the same: stagnation.</p> <p> Demographic projections aren&rsquo;t fixed in stone. They contain immutable truths but not constants. The two 2045 Minnesotas can still be a single Minnesota if we plan and invest accordingly. Rural Minnesota is an asset, not a liability. Public physical and intellectual infrastructure creates opportunity, economic growth and family stability. This is as true in Lac Qui Parle county&rsquo;s Madison as it is in Minneapolis. A stable, well-educated workforce; access to electrical power; ample water; buildings; and space, combined with high functioning local government, is a development dream. Read the data and learn the lessons. Don&rsquo;t miss the potential.</p> Fri, 11 Jul 2014 11:00:33 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/dont-make-the-same-mistake-twice http://mn2020.org/8529 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Big Ole took a hit. And, if we reverse public policy direction, returning to what didn&rsquo;t work for 10 years, Minnesota will take a bigger, harder, worse hit.</p> <p> Alexandria, Minnesota&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/19491" target="_blank">Big Ole</a> statue, a proud, strong representation of Western Minnesota&rsquo;s Scandinavian heritage, <a href="http://bringmethenews.com/2014/06/29/heavy-rain-causes-more-flooding-storms-possible-sunday/" target="_blank">lost a wing</a> adornment from his winged helmet in the recent storms. Big Ole now bears but one wing.</p> <p> In the interest of historical accuracy, I encourage Alexandrians to knock the other one off rather than replace it. Similarly, conservative policy advocates, like those running for governor, would be well-advised to apply the same strategy to their jointly expressed policy proposals coming, as they did, at the same time as weekend storms swept our state. The policy damage that they would do will cost Minnesotans more than a dinged fiberglass helmet.</p> <p> A clear-eyed consideration of history propels both observations. The past as it was is rarely the past that we&rsquo;d like it to be. History is an extraordinarily useful guide but only if fact genuinely matches present question.</p> <p> Real Vikings wore practical battle helmets. There&rsquo;s no documentary, physical or archeological evidence supporting winged or horned helmets in Viking martial use. The sole possible exception appears to be a Ninth Century, C.E., tapestry that might include a winged helmet wearing figure.</p> <p> The <a href="http://www.memory.no/ose1E.htm" target="_blank">Oseberg Tapestry</a>, like many surviving 1200 year old textile works, is in tough shape. It exists in <a href="http://www.memory.no/Bilder/Ose3.jpg" target="_blank">fragments</a>, removed from an excavated Viking ceremonial funerary ship, the Oseberg. Scholarly study, leading to the tapestry&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.memory.no/Bilder/ose1.jpg" target="_blank">recreation</a>, suggests that one of the figures might be wearing a winged helmet. Oh, and that figure might actually be a Norse god, not a Viking.</p> <p> That&rsquo;s it. That&rsquo;s the sum physical proof of Vikings wearing winged or horned helmets. Jump forward a thousand years and European artists were falling all over themselves inventing a mythic past that included most every Viking wearing a winged or horned helmet. Why? Winged helmets are cool. Painting the romanticized, mythic past is a lot easier using cool helmets worn by ruggedly handsome Viking warriors than it is using schlumpy images of stringy haired guys with practical but unadorned pots on their heads.</p> <p> This leads to the important question, pivoting into today&rsquo;s public policy debate. Why do we take great pains to romanticize our past? Because the mythic past helps us pursue public policy objectives better than the actual, complicated past. It&rsquo;s the idea, usually expressed around nationalism, that &ldquo;we were a great people once; we&rsquo;re destined to be a great people again.&rdquo; Persuaded by a mythic past, policy advocates assure us that imagined past glories may be realized if we just adopt a conservative policy agenda.</p> <p> During the same storm swept weekend, Minnesota&rsquo;s four conservative gubernatorial candidates, contending in the Republican primary election, <a href="http://www.twincities.com/politics/ci_26050922/almanac-debate-4-gop-candidates-governor-point-their" target="_blank">appeared together</a> on Almanac, Twin Cities Public Television&rsquo;s weekly current affairs show. All four advocated strongly for tax cuts and improved transportation funding without increasing taxes. They uniformly criticized Governor Mark Dayton for destroying Minnesota&rsquo;s job and economic growth climate, remaining undeterred by low unemployment data and Minnesota&rsquo;s expanding economy.</p> <p> Even as Minnesota&rsquo;s transportation experts warn that Minnesota will need to spend billions annually to just to maintain the state&rsquo;s bridge and highway network, the four conservative candidates insisted that this work could be achieved without raising taxes.</p> <p> Roads and bridges resist ideological framing. Their wear is dictated by use, design, materials and time, not politics. Roads and bridges support their designed purpose until construction materials degrade. At that point, elected leaders have a range of choices. They can restrict use, slowing future deterioration; patch the worst problems; close the road or bridge entirely; or fund reconstruction, extending life for another generation. Doing nothing rapidly increases the risk of catastrophic failure.</p> <p> The only way to fund road and bridge reconstruction without generating new revenue or increasing the state budget is to cut other program funding. Minnesota&rsquo;s present <a href="http://www.mmb.state.mn.us/doc/budget/report-fba/14-balsht_summary-fba.pdf" target="_blank">state biennial budget</a> is roughly $41 billion. Holding that figure steady -which won&rsquo;t actually happen but, for illustration&rsquo;s sake, let&rsquo;s say that it will- means subtracting billions of new road and bridge maintenance spending from current programs. Like schools.</p> <p> Minnesota currently allocates $16.7 billion for K12 spending. Moving even $2 billion represents a 12% education funding cut - enough to cancel out modest K12 funding increases that have just begun to reverse ten years of serious funding cuts, and accelerate the downward slide. But, Minnesota wouldn&rsquo;t raise income taxes.</p> <p> Policymakers could shift $2 billion of the state&rsquo;s roughly $3 billion local property tax aids and credits to road and bridge maintenance budgets. That would also be, in conservative policy terms, an anti-tax measure. It would also absolutely raise local property taxes as counties and cities return to scrambling to make up for state revenue sharing cuts.</p> <p> Ten years of conservative policy direction forced communities to make difficult, debilitating decisions. Minnesota&rsquo;s crumbling road and bridge infrastructure is only one example. Blithely calling for tax cuts while insinuating past success misreads the past and misleads Minnesotans. In the interest of historical accuracy, understand that 2003-2012 conservative public policy initiatives damaged Minnesota, rather than create growth and prosperity. Let&rsquo;s not make the same mistake twice.</p> Fri, 04 Jul 2014 11:00:07 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Pension Lessons and the Coming Retirement Crisis http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/pension-lessons-and-the-coming-retirement-crisis http://mn2020.org/8502 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Minnesota has a pension problem. Most Minnesotans haven&rsquo;t saved enough money to adequately and securely fund their retirement. More than half of Minnesotans can&rsquo;t count on a pension as a retirement funding mechanism because they don&rsquo;t have one.</p> <p> That&rsquo;s a problem.</p> <p> Minnesotans need to aggressively save more money for their retirement life needs than they&rsquo;re currently saving. Making this observation is much simpler than changing saving behavior. Retirement security savings shortfalls call every social safety net assumption into question. Without change, can people actually count on a secure retirement?</p> <p> Pensions are a form of retirement savings designed, through working life contributions, to provide a retirement revenue stream. It&rsquo;s the money that you live on after you&rsquo;ve stopped working. Pension principal grows through paycheck contributions and pension fund investment returns. Pension funds are invested in some combination of stocks and bonds carrying a diverse range of financial risk, using strategies designed to preserve and, ideally, improve the contributed funds&rsquo; purchasing power.</p> <p> Pension popularity rose with the middle class&rsquo; growth in the 20th century. Pensions are a work benefit that, along with health insurance, created a stable, low-turnover workforce by financially incentivizing workers to remain in an employer&rsquo;s long-term employ. The pension, along with other non-wage benefits, created greater compensation value than wages alone.</p> <p> Rapid growth of non-wage work benefits occurred in fast growing, post-World War II manufacturing industries. Rapidly expanding consumer demand in, for example, the automotive industry, induced company owners and managers to preserve worker experience and extend tenure by creating a host of non-wage benefits. Pension and healthcare costs, companies discovered, could be managed efficiently by leveraging group purchasing. This lowered employers&rsquo; non-wage costs while creating greater benefit value for workers.</p> <p> This idea works best when the economy is expanding and sales are exploding. Growth tends to disguise the true nature of genuine problems, making it harder to implement long term solutions. Unchecked expectation of never-ending growth and growth&rsquo;s reward are chief among those.</p> <p> There are two principal pension forms, defined benefit plans (DBP) and defined contribution plans (DCP). They may sound similar but more separates them than a single word of three.</p> <p> The defined benefit plan is the worker&rsquo;s best option yet it carries a small but significant long-term risk. As a retirement benefit, DBPs creation, management and fund responsibility fall to employers. The employer is responsible for fund shortfalls if the portfolio underperforms. Employees receive a fixed monthly disbursement, adjusted per terms of the labor contract but generally increasing to meet rising inflation costs. The employees&rsquo; risk is catastrophic risk of business failure and, with it, company-linked retirement savings plans. A dying business tends to take the pension fund down with it, leaving workers with no or few retirement savings.</p> <p> Defined contribution plans are typified by 401(k) savings accounts. They&rsquo;re tax-deferred retirement savings plans, principally funded directly by workers although employers may contribute to the employee&rsquo;s account. Apart from facilitating direct deposit and possibly contributing to an employee&rsquo;s retirement account, employers have little else to do with DCPs. Outside of government, <a href="http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2012/10/17/good-question-how-many-of-us-still-get-a-pension/" target="_blank">DCPs have replaced DBPs</a> as retirement savings plans. By moving to DCPs, companies have, in effect, discounted the long-term benefit of an experienced, stable workforce. They&rsquo;ve shifted worker retirement costs to government while benefiting from worker productivity gains.</p> <p> Both DCPs and DBPs rely on accurate risk calculation to determine retirement fund health and obligation.</p> <p> Calculating life span and associated outcome probabilities is a branch of mathematics called actuarial science. While perceived as duller than playing poker for a living, actuarial sciences make the same risk assessment judgments, assigning a monetary value to probable outcomes. Popularly associated with the insurance industry, actuaries are found wherever financial risk is managed.</p> <p> Workers with a properly funded and managed DBP pension are in better retirement financial shape than DCP holders. Underscoring retirement life&rsquo;s growing insecurity risk, however, Minnesota&rsquo;s largest and most secure public pension plans are coming up short when it comes to contributing to retirees total expense needs.</p> <p> According to<a href="http://www.mnpera.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&amp;SEC={A4C377CF-1748-4FA4-906F-0F6EE1698EA3}"> Minnesota&rsquo;s Public Employees Retirement Association</a>, their 2012 annual report calculated the&nbsp;General Plan fund's market value at 73 percent, which meets <a href="http://media.navigatored.com/documents/StateofStatePensionsReport.pdf">Morningstar's &quot;fiscally sound&quot; threshhold</a>. That means, given reasonable retirement life span projections, and if current employees made no further contributions, the fund will be able to pay 73 percent of its commitment. Market returns and younger workers will continue to replenish recessionary period market depleted fund value. MPERA also notes, however, that 75% of pensioners are receiving less than $2,000 per month, which for many families will not meet retirement needs. &nbsp;Despite holding up their end of the contract, retired public workers will have to come up with rest of their money from somewhere else.</p> <p> I raise this example because even under the very best circumstances &ndash;a worker organized, negotiated and publicly administered defined benefits pension plan- workers aren&rsquo;t saving enough money to fully secure their retirement. This means that we need to think differently about how we save for retirement, putting middle and low income earning Minnesotans&rsquo; working and retirement life needs first.</p> <p> The solution is remarkably simple. Minnesota needs a <a href="http://states.aarp.org/enhance-retirement-security-enact-minnesota-work-and-save/" target="_blank">publicly-guided retirement savings plan</a> that uses its financial weight to only serve its member savers. It should fall somewhere between current DCPs and DBPs; allow for direct payroll contribution regardless of employer&rsquo;s retirement benefits plan; charge the absolute fewest, lowest fees possible; and be created no later than next year.</p> <p> The best crisis outcome is the one that, with quiet, determined work, largely fails to materialize. We can do this in Minnesota.</p> Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:00:56 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: No One Rides for Free http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-no-one-rides-for-free http://mn2020.org/8474 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Riding public buses and trains requires paying a fare. Driving Minnesota&rsquo;s roads does not. Both transportation methods carry considerable public costs, yet conservative policy advocates only criticize public transit for not covering all operating expenses with fees. They deftly ignore highway subsidies. In the process, these critics purposefully miss the point of public transportation infrastructure, moving Minnesota forward, literally and figuratively.</p> <p> All transportation systems achieve extraordinary social good. From facilitating emergency services to expanding business growth, roads, bridges, rail, airports and waterways get Minnesotans to where they want to go. Minnesota tangibly benefits through expanded economic activity.&nbsp;</p> <p> The new Green Line LRT opened last weekend to enthusiastic public reception, <a href="http://finance-commerce.com/transit/2014/06/16/green-line-attracts-75000-riders-for-opening-weekend/" target="_blank">75,000 eager riders</a> and <a href="http://www.mn2020hindsight.org/view/rebels-without-a-clue" target="_blank">11 bedraggled anti-transit protestors</a>. Despite persistent rain that compelled canceling many opening day activities, riders came out in droves.&nbsp;Several people, sharing their Green Line experience with me, enthusiastically capped their comments with &ldquo;and it was free!&rdquo; That&rsquo;s inaccurate. What riders should have said was, &ldquo;This day, I paid no fare past that portion of my taxes that fund transportation needs!&rdquo;</p> <p> Marking the Green Line opening and to promote public transit use, Metro Transit levied no rider fares this past weekend for buses or trains. They wanted everyone to use public transit, not just the new Green Line. Forgoing fare revenue is the equivalent of shifting that portion of the operating budget to the marketing department&rsquo;s line item.&nbsp;Every organization, business, nonprofit or government agency, markets itself. Some spend massive sums while others spend next to nothing. Alerting the public to the organizations product or service is the end goal.</p> <p> Consider how food producers introduce a product. They distribute samples, typically at a point of purchasing decision making, like a grocery store. Whether a jam-smeared cracker, a toothpick-skewered cheese cube or a half-ounce slug of juice dispensed in a tiny paper cup, product marketers just want the consumer to give it a try. Not everyone will like the sample enough to purchase the product. Not every purchaser will become a long-term, reliably regular purchaser because people have different needs, expectations and budgets. But, as any marketer will tell you, no marketing effort means no sales.</p> <p> Food producers don&rsquo;t look at product samples as lost sales. They&rsquo;re working within a marketing budget from funds built into the product&rsquo;s price. Their goal is to increase sales and improve market share. It&rsquo;s not lost revenue but a savvy investment of operating funds.&nbsp;Last weekend&rsquo;s Metro Transit riders weren&rsquo;t riding for free; their fare was, in effect, covered by the marketing budget in the hope that riders increase their use of trains and buses. The net result of increased transit system ridership is increased operational economies of scale and, critically, increased highway capacity for vehicle users such as trucks carrying raw materials or finished goods. In other words, we&rsquo;re getting more for investing a little.</p> <p> This is the systemic point that anti-tax conservatives miss. It&rsquo;s all about doing more with less yet less can never be nothing. Fundamentally, contemporary conservatives seem to want the world to stand still, if not retreat to some mythic past point. These desires each contain a glaring problem; the world doesn&rsquo;t stand still and the past was never, ever as great as we remember it.</p> <p> The Green Line LRT replaces a <a href="http://www.trolleyride.org/History/Narrative/TC_Transit.html" target="_blank">streetcar system</a> abandoned sixty years earlier. Find someone old enough to remember riding it and they&rsquo;ll wax nostalgic, recalling youth more than rider conditions. The old streetcars were uncomfortable, loud, drafty and functionally unheated. Track and power line maintenance was costly. No technology lasts forever; cities moved on to buses. The LRT is the next step in forward progression, serving to expand service, manage operational costs and stimulate economic growth.</p> <p> The world doesn&rsquo;t stand still. Recognize that, create public policy that improves people&rsquo;s choices, engages true market competition and Minnesota moves forward. Protesting the Green Line LRT is cursing the darkness rather than lighting a single candle. It might feel good for a moment, but in the end you still can&rsquo;t see what&rsquo;s going on around you. We all own our public transportation system because we all pay for it, sometimes directly but mostly indirectly. No one rides for free. Everyone has a stake in its success.</p> Fri, 20 Jun 2014 11:00:36 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Taking the Public Out of a Public Park http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-taking-the-public-out-of-a-public-park http://mn2020.org/8441 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Sharing public amenities is only slightly less controversial than funding public amenities. The new Vikings stadium adjoins an equally<a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/262320921.html" target="_blank"> new Minneapolis public park</a>. The Minnesota Vikings and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission retain exclusive use for 80-100 days per year. The park represents a new economic development direction that presents itself as one thing, a park, while behaving as another, an athletic performance venue.</p> <p> Like most Minnesotans, I don&rsquo;t pretend to fully understand the new Vikings stadium deal&rsquo;s intricacies. I only know two things. First, the deal contains many complicated elements, unsurprising given the money involved and the principals&rsquo; skill and experience. But, we keep discovering new codicils like the new park&rsquo;s privileged benefit. If they were fully understood at the time, those project details may very well have derailed the entire Vikings stadium replacement deal. Two, the public is footing a large chunk of the project&rsquo;s cost. The State&rsquo;s and the City of Minneapolis&rsquo; financial commitments are, combined, greater than the football team owner&rsquo;s investment.</p> <p> We recently learned that the new stadium facility will be adjoined by a public park, created from the soon-to-be leveled Star-Tribune building and surface parking lots. Situated between Park and Fifth Avenues and 4th and 5th Streets, the new park is, functionally, an extension of the stadium&rsquo;s front plaza. That&rsquo;s by design.</p> <p> Besides the new park&rsquo;s existence, which I argue was not widely understood, the real surprise was the public space&rsquo;s preferential reservation for Vikings and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission events. This revelation isn&rsquo;t unexpected but it clearly caught city leaders off guard in a &ldquo;we agreed to what?&rdquo; fashion. The new park and its black-out dates remind us that, among the many equals funding a public amenity for mixed public-private use, some equals are more equal than others.</p> <p> Professional football hasn&rsquo;t been about just a football game for decades. The game, played at the highest athletic performance level, anchors a host of ancillary entertainment activities. Football competes for your entertainment dollar with movies, dining, theater, baseball, roller derby, the zoo and every other conceivable recreational activity. Even then, football isn&rsquo;t football alone. In-person attendance facilitates the real money maker, television audiences. 73,000 ticketholders experience the game in person but those numbers pale beside the millions watching on broadcast, cable or streaming.</p> <p> The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome yielded a great economic development lesson. A stadium alone is insufficient. Thirty years ago, Vikings owners and public officials hoped that the then-new multi-use facility would draw the central business district&rsquo;s energy and business six or eight blocks east, filling and improving the space between the Dome and Hennepin Avenue. It didn&rsquo;t happen. Apart from surface lot parking, stadium economic activity created a single bar, Hubert&rsquo;s. That&rsquo;s it.</p> <p> This happened because the Vikings owners limited their revenue generation horizons to activities within the facility. They wanted fans to only spend money inside the Metrodome, not outside. Any money spent beyond the gates was viewed as revenue lost to owners. Therefore, the earlier owners weren&rsquo;t interested in surrounding amenities. Essentially, they wanted to prevent game-day tailgating, compelling fans to replace pre-game informal parking lot dining with food purchasing inside the facility. For a new stadium to work, even an entirely privately financed stadium, the old mix had to change. And, that&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s happened. As a result, developers aren&rsquo;t building a football stadium; they&rsquo;re constructing a neighborhood that also contains a single-purpose sports facility. Neighborhoods need parks.</p> <p> All parks are not created equal. They serve different needs and different constituencies. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a specialized park for example. By design, it&rsquo;s a wilderness, created to preserve a non-commercialized, undeveloped outdoors experience. Anyone may access it provided that they have the entry fee and a willingness to lug and paddle gear without machine assistance. In contrast, the pop-top camper crowd can find electrically-wired campsites in every Minnesota county. The new stadium park is an urban creature. It creates green space amidst tar, brick and concrete. It&rsquo;s not Minnehaha Park. Rather, it&rsquo;s closer to the public space surrounding the Hennepin County Government Center, better known for public demonstrations than hotdog roasts.</p> <p> That&rsquo;s the nut of my concern with the large number of privileged park reservations dates. Urban parks are public space for gathering. All parks are commons, shared natural and cultural resources available to the public. Restricting or removing that benefit strikes a resonant warning chord. As Minnesotans, we have different views about public-private partnerships but don&rsquo;t build a park just to tell us that it&rsquo;s only a park sometimes.</p> <p> Our democracy is predicated on publicly voicing opinion. The first US Constitutional Amendment guarantees our right of assembly. Commandeering and restricting public space carries a deeper, more resonant threat than plowing half a billion public revenue dollars into a football club&rsquo;s game day venue. I understand that parks are economic development tools and amenities. Using public park space to improve the Vikings stadium&rsquo;s chance of success is smart. But, public parks are also public space assets essential to our democracy. Don&rsquo;t mess with democracy; it&rsquo;s more important than football.</p> Fri, 13 Jun 2014 11:00:05 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Dressed to Distract http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-dressed-to-distract http://mn2020.org/8405 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> A conservative public policy protest is incomplete without at least one participant dressed as an 18th century British North American colonist, resplendent in knee breeches, waist coat and tri-cornered hat. Sometimes, they carry a Don&rsquo;t-Tread-On-Me <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadsden_flag" target="_blank">snake flag</a>. Their point, as I understand it, is that Minnesota should closely adhere to our nation&rsquo;s founding values and intentions, boldly acting for liberty.</p> <p> As much as I appreciate good political street theater, conservative policy advocates miss the point. Mostly, I think that they&rsquo;re misreading history even as they&rsquo;re making a public policy advocacy claim. What actually happened in the past and what people would like to believe happened is entirely a question of the present.</p> <p> Studying history is profoundly important. Setting aside the too-easy clich&eacute;, &ldquo;those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it,&rdquo; history study is a means for contemplating our present and future. Contemporary questions frame history. We study the past because of what we encounter today. Studying history, for me, is not a neutral act but one of political engagement and activism.</p> <p> Growing up on a farm in rural southwestern Minnesota and coming of age during the 80s farm crisis focused my interest in the past. Collapsing land and commodity prices weren&rsquo;t invented in 1985. Economic contraction is a regular part of the economic cycle. At the time I didn&rsquo;t understand that the farm crisis was linked to the Great Depression and earlier 19th century rural recessions and depressions. Watching farmers protest, demanding public policy assistance, I experienced historical resonance. I kept thinking that this rally must have happened before. Turns out, it had. The 1985 farmers rally at the Minnesota State Capitol looked a lot like the <a href="http://www.mnopedia.org/multimedia/farmers-storm-capitol-demand-relief" target="_blank">1933 State Capitol protests</a>.</p> <p> History helps me understand today&rsquo;s challenges but I&rsquo;m equally fascinated by how people embrace, ignore and interpret historical events. The Civil War casts an extraordinarily long shadow across our nation. That 1861-1865 period resonates as evidenced by the regular book publishing, movies, television shows, and battle re-enactments. People want to better understand this defining American moment. Some of them dress up in Civil War era uniforms and trudge the ground crossed by their forbearers but without the death, disease and social disruption.</p> <p> Costumed historical re-enactment is a purposefully selective activity. The term &ldquo;authentic&rdquo; gets bandied about, especially within the re-enactment community. Are my reproduction 1860s soldier boots, made in China, more authentic than wearing beat up, 30-year-old farm boots? Is my bedroll better or worse because I drape it over an inflated air mattress? This debate is endless and, in my view, ultimately pointless. Don&rsquo;t focus on the minutiae but on the larger desire to understand what people experienced during the Civil War. And, short answer, it was simultaneously awesome and horrendous.</p> <p> We are not the people who marched, attacked and retreated at Gettysburg. Minnesota was barely a state in 1861, much less in 1863's Battle of Gettysburg. Most contemporary Minnesotans&rsquo; ancestors hadn&rsquo;t arrived, not even by a long shot. Today, Minnesota is a state of 5.3 million but in 1860 there were fewer than 175,000.</p> <p> The Civil War, including Minnesota&rsquo;s slice, serves to draw us in to our shared past. The really important questions, interpreting re-enactors&rsquo; choices, should cause everyone to ask why re-enact this battle and not other moments? You&rsquo;ll notice that no one is keen to re-enact battles of the <a href="http://www.usdakotawar.org/" target="_blank">1862 US-Dakota War</a>. The conflict between native people and European immigrants represents a very real, unhealed scab in Minnesota history. Re-staging the Battle of Birch Coulee, which occurred contemporaneously with the first Civil War <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_Civil_War_battles" target="_blank">battles</a>, would be viewed as disrespectfully diminishing the historical moment rather than drawing people into considering the past.</p> <p> What, then, do we make of the costumed conservative policy advocate? It&rsquo;s not about the past but the present. Costume can&rsquo;t disguise tax policy that concentrates public investment&rsquo;s rewards into fewer, wealthier hands. Fife and drums can&rsquo;t obscure attacks on public schools. Tri-corner hats don&rsquo;t substitute for affordable healthcare. Don&rsquo;t be distracted by the outfit. Focus, as history study teaches, on what actually happened and apply the lessons accordingly. We measure public policy success by its outcomes, not by its process.</p> Fri, 06 Jun 2014 11:00:48 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: College Paves Path to Prosperity, Stability http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-college-paves-path-to-prosperity-stability http://mn2020.org/8366 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Don&rsquo;t believe the hype questioning a university education&rsquo;s value, insinuating that college study is a waste of time, money and effort. Go to college. A four-year college degree carries greater lifetime financial rewards than a work life anchored with &ldquo;some college&rdquo; or a high school diploma. In accumulated income earnings, it&rsquo;s not even close.</p> <p> Recent research and analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, reported in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/27/upshot/is-college-worth-it-clearly-new-data-say.html?_r=0" target="_blank">The Upshot</a>, a New York Times economics column, finds that college graduates make more money, significantly more money, than less well-educated Americans. We shouldn&rsquo;t need a study to know that educational achievement translates into greater lifetime earnings. But, let&rsquo;s be objective about this, moving from articles of faith to articles of fact requires data.</p> <p> The facts are clear. Work life with a four-year college degree is more financially remunerative than a work life achieved with just a high school diploma. Last year, the wage disparity between college and high school graduates was the highest recorded. Four year college grads averaged 98 percent more per hour than high school grads. Plus, wages for workers without a four-year college degree are either stagnant or declining. That fiscal path leads to fewer choices, a declining standard of living and a dramatically elevated risk of perpetual poverty. Given this data, choosing to skip college in the belief that &ldquo;it&rsquo;s not worth it&rdquo; is a textbook example of irrational economic behavior.</p> <p> Higher education requires additional personal investment. It&rsquo;s expensive. Graduating with $25,000 in student loans may appear daunting but, I&rsquo;m telling you, jump into that pool. First, you&rsquo;re investing in your economic future. Once you&rsquo;ve paid those loans, the earnings differential is gravy. Second, the public policy debate has it all wrong. We&rsquo;re discouraging people from attending college when we should be focused on improving public financing of higher education. Minnesota benefits when everyone earns higher wages, expands the economy and creates new jobs. Minnesota doesn&rsquo;t need a burgeoning underclass, we need the best compensated, most skillful, productive and adaptable workforce imaginable. That workforce will only come from improved access to affordable higher education.</p> <p> My grandfather, Harold Jones of Mapleton Township, was unapologetically pro-higher education. The Great Depression shaped his world view. College created a path to stable family and community life. You go to college, he lectured me, to make a good living. To make a better, more secure living than the farm or wage labor might provide. But attending college wasn&rsquo;t an ethereal act of personal development or horizon expansion, not for my grandfather. He expected university degrees to have a practical application like teaching, engineering, medicine or practicing law, sending my mom to Mankato State for an education major.</p> <p> When I told my grandfather, one college Christmas break, that I was declaring double majors in history and political science, he struggled to understand my degree&rsquo;s potential application. Teaching majors teach. Nursing majors nurse. Business Administration majors work in business. What, he asked would I do with a history major?</p> <p> I explained that studying history opened the world, placing people and events in context and connected the human experience across time. History, studying the past, prepared me for everything to come. But, he pressed me, what work would History prepare me to do?</p> <p> At this point, I became much too cavalier. Anything, Grandpa, I said. I can do anything. I&rsquo;ve regretted saying that ever since. I was raised on a farm in an era of rising prosperity. My grandfather&rsquo;s farming boyhood and early adult life was just this side of poverty. He and my grandmother lived lives rooted in the real suspicion that the next Great Depression was just around the corner. They saved money in multiple banks, guarding against bank failure. They reused every consumer good in their lives. They weren&rsquo;t fearful people but they were wary of the market&rsquo;s cruel indifference. And, they believed in government as a force for good and fairness in working people&rsquo;s lives.</p> <p> When I told my grandfather I wanted to work in politics and possibly in government, he relaxed. He understood. He&rsquo;d still, if possible, be voting for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Laboring in that tradition was a worthy pursuit provided that I could earn a living doing it.</p> <p> Drawing on his life&rsquo;s experience, my grandfather never dismissed higher education, suggesting that it wasn&rsquo;t worth the investment or deferred labor market entry. He observed who had financially secure livelihoods and who did not. He didn&rsquo;t need wage analysis to support his observations but he would&rsquo;ve welcomed the research, recognizing a university education at work.</p> <p> The most enthusiastic advocates for discouraging a college degree seem to be people who most directly benefit from a growing underclass. They expect their children to minimally earn a four-year college degree while simultaneously suggesting that your kids don&rsquo;t need one. That path leads to family financial insecurity. My grandfather with his eighth-grade country school education understood, very clearly, which path he wanted his family to take just as he understood that it was government&rsquo;s job to make higher ed accessible to all.</p> Fri, 30 May 2014 11:00:16 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: When it’s Better to Borrow http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-when-its-better-to-borrow http://mn2020.org/8337 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> If everyone waited until they could pay cash for a home almost no one would own a house and Minnesota&rsquo;s economy would be weaker and worse. The same logic guides government capital investments in public infrastructure. If we waited until we could pay cash for roads, bridges and buildings, we&rsquo;d have very few roads, bridges and buildings.</p> <p> The last major item in Minnesota&rsquo;s 2014 legislative session was the <a href="http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/bs/88/HF2490.pdf" target="_blank">Capital Investment Omnibus Bill</a>, better known as the Bonding Bill. It&rsquo;s the mechanism that state policymakers use to borrow money by issuing and selling state bonds to finance public infrastructure construction. Rather than pay additional fees to borrow money from a bank, the state raises cash directly from the marketplace.</p> <p> <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bond_%28finance%29" target="_blank">Bonds</a> are financial instruments. They&rsquo;re promises to pay back borrowed money over a relatively long term period. Bonds, especially those issued by stable, well-managed state governments, are widely considered extremely safe investments. They don&rsquo;t yield stock market-type financial returns but then they don&rsquo;t carry stock market-type risks. Bonds&rsquo; investment attractiveness flows from the stable repayment schedules.</p> <p> States use bonds to finance public infrastructure, not public programs. Program funding is a function of tax and budget policy, evaluated through the state&rsquo;s economy. State program budgets are the policy-driven plan for addressing public need. And, as we&rsquo;ve all been reminded during the Great Recession and laconic recovery, public needs can change very quickly. That&rsquo;s also why bonding generated funds are used for infrastructure investments but not for program. Infrastructure has, by design, a long-term perspective serving long-term needs. Program engages the here and now.</p> <p> Why, when interest rates and construction costs remain low, did state policymakers cap state bonding, supplementing it with generated cash revenue? They used short term, program money to make long-term investments. Not only is Minnesota missing the opportunity to leverage greater economic growth from optimal bond and construction market conditions, it&rsquo;s missing the good from committing newly-realized public revenue to reversing program investment decline.</p> <p> Let me back up. In fact, let me back way up. Government is an expression of the public&rsquo;s desire for order, security and stability. We manage government by electing leaders to limited terms in office, investing them with the authority to achieve the public&rsquo;s goals. People always want more than collective resources can deliver. Leading government requires artfully managing public expectations. Economic swings especially complicate expectation&rsquo;s artful management.</p> <p> Minnesota&rsquo;s constitution requires a balanced state budget, matching forecast public revenue with projected public spending. When economies slow, public revenue generated by tax receipts fall as people spend less money. That in turn compels budget cuts in order to maintain balanced budgets. States could borrow money to compensate for reduced tax revenue but that choice is rarely well received. First, bond market analysts react negatively, lowering the State&rsquo;s bond rating and increasing borrowing costs. Borrowing long-term investment money to meet short-term program needs is seen as risky behavior. The preferred alternative is always a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.</p> <p> In the past ten years, Minnesota deviated from this pattern by refusing to raise state taxes until last year under Governor Dayton&rsquo;s leadership. During the worst recession since the 1930&rsquo;s Great Depression, conservative policy leaders refused to raise taxes, insisting on budget cuts alone. As a result, Minnesota cut program spending deeper and with greater negative consequences than in previous recessionary periods. Minnesota has a lot of ground to make up in every policy area, from schools to roads to healthcare. But, Minnesota didn&rsquo;t spend bonding money to offset budget cuts.</p> <p> Minnesota maintains the <a href="http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/fiscal/files/14gbondsum.pdf" target="_blank">second highest bond rating</a>. We could borrow up to $2 billion without lowering the rating. This year, policymakers agreed to <a href="http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/224499243?access_key=key-vGgCuPM1YYMzrOhr3XSR&amp;allow_share=true&amp;escape=false&amp;view_mode=scroll" target="_blank">authorize</a> just shy of $900 million but added about $280 million more in public revenue generated cash to bump infrastructure spending up to $1.1 billion. While I quibble with the $900 million, it&rsquo;s the $280 million that chaffs.</p> <p> Appropriating General Funds for capital investment projects pits, for example, improvements to the <a href="http://www.postbulletin.com/news/politics/with-million-for-mayo-civic-center-construction-package-heads-to/article_6f3b8994-66ae-5ccb-802b-d69dcb92eab9.html" target="_blank">Mayo Civic Center</a> against Minnesota&rsquo;s schools. Civic centers are infrastructure like roads and bridges. It&rsquo;s a long-term economic investment meriting construction financing from General Obligation bonds. Paying for it with General Fund dollars&mdash;cash&mdash;means prioritizing that project over needs, such as school funding. Or affordable healthcare funding. Or property tax relief. Policymakers should&rsquo;ve paid for the facility project with GO bonds. They didn&rsquo;t, choosing instead to spend GF cash.</p> <p> Minnesota is not a house. We&rsquo;re a state with a state&rsquo;s complex needs, goals and ambitions. We need smart budgeting and management policy to meet those ambitions. We need to invest the public&rsquo;s resources to achieve the best, most productive results. It&rsquo;s a proven, capital idea.</p> Fri, 23 May 2014 10:59:28 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: We’re Not Saving Enough http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-were-not-saving-enough http://mn2020.org/8306 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> On Mother&rsquo;s Day, Governor Mark Dayton signed the <a href="http://www.mnwesa.org/the-legislation/" target="_blank">Minnesota Women&rsquo;s Economic Security Act</a> into law. It&rsquo;s aimed at increasing family stability through expanded unpaid leave requirements and decreasing women&rsquo;s pay inequity by requiring employer wage certification and disclosure. Less known is a provision authorizing a study of Minnesota&rsquo;s retirement savings practices.</p> <p> I can tell you right now that Minnesotans are not saving enough money to meet their retirement security needs. The State&rsquo;s study will find the same but in greater detail, illuminating the problem&rsquo;s depth and nuance. The research project will, I expect, underscore the need for an immediate shift in policy, enacted through legislation, creating a direct paycheck deduction plan for every worker to build long-term retirement savings.</p> <p> At least, that&rsquo;s what all of the research, including similar state legislature-directed studies <a href="http://www.treasurer.ca.gov/scib/" target="_blank">in other states</a>, finds. Nationally, the <a href="http://www.nirsonline.org/storage/nirs/documents/Retirement%20Savings%20Crisis/retirementsavingscrisis_final.pdf" target="_blank">retirement savings data</a> is unequivocal. People aren&rsquo;t saving enough money to meet their reasonably projected retirement cost needs. If we don&rsquo;t change directions, implementing a direct-deposit savings plan, Minnesota is at high risk of experiencing retiree poverty growth at exactly the moment that Minnesota&rsquo;s elderly population is exploding. More people in retirement with fewer financial resources to meet needs will strain family and public resources.</p> <p> This might come as a surprise but in 2020, more Minnesotans will be <a href="http://www.demography.state.mn.us/documents/SusanBrower_Cargill_Jan2014.pdf" target="_blank">age 65 and older than will be school aged</a>, 5-17. By decade&rsquo;s end, there will be 285,000 more 65+ Minnesotans than at the decade&rsquo;s start. The decade after that, the 20s, will see that figure grow by 335,000 more 65+&rsquo;ers. Consequently, it&rsquo;s accurate to observe that Minnesota is aging. But, here&rsquo;s the great part. This is an asset, not a liability.</p> <p> Think about what age yields. More experience, greater wisdom, and more time for non-work activities increases family and community social stability.</p> <p> An increasingly large 65+ population will change Minnesota&rsquo;s economic and social landscape but, again, this is a positive development, not a negative one. More people needing senior-focused healthcare service, transportation options, and changing lifestyles will drive innovation. The sheer market demand will transform the aging experience. It also highlights the need for increasing everyone&rsquo;s retirement savings because almost no one has saved enough.</p> <p> Markets respond to demand. Demand is desire backed by cash. I might want a new car but until I put money on the table, I simply have a new car dream. The market contemplates and assesses dreams but it&rsquo;s moved by money. Minnesota&rsquo;s aging population will express an interest in a great range of service desires but they won&rsquo;t and can&rsquo;t pay for everything. What&rsquo;s important will quickly sort itself out. More retirement savings creates more demand and competition.</p> <p> Increased retirement savings will only come from lowering the barriers to long-term savings. Everything that we&rsquo;ve done to this point is inadequate. Therefore, we must do more to help people save more.</p> <p> The most potent method for increasing retirement savings is direct paycheck contribution into a retirement savings account. This is exactly the same methodology we use to pay our income taxes. Through tax withholding, we pay our income taxes as we go so that we don&rsquo;t get slammed with an income-appropriate tax bill but no savings to pay it. Saving two, three or four percent of every paycheck, directly deposited into a retirement savings account, invested for long-term gain, will, over a worker&rsquo;s lifetime, dramatically improve retirement savings.</p> <p> Compound interest is an extraordinarily important investment phenomenon. The investor reaps the reward of accumulating, reinvested interest earnings. It&rsquo;s essential to old wealth&rsquo;s perpetuity. That&rsquo;s what makes retirement savings plan proposals so alluring and promising. They make rich people&rsquo;s wealth building strategies available to low and modest income earners.</p> <p> Getting there means requiring employers to facilitate direct payroll deposits into a retirement savings account. More than half of employers don&rsquo;t offer an employer contribution to retirement savings benefit. Simply allowing workers to set up direct payroll deducted retirement savings plan contributions will begin reversing the retirement security need deficit. It&rsquo;s a reasonable step forward that will increase retirement security, improve family stability and decrease expensive reliance on publicly funded care assistance.</p> <p> Studying retirement insecurity will help make the case for change. But, it also delays realizing the earliest saving&rsquo;s benefits. Family stability goals form the Women&rsquo;s Economic Security Act&rsquo;s core. Stronger families build a stronger future. We don&rsquo;t need a study to know that.</p> Fri, 16 May 2014 11:00:23 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Older, Poorer, More Diverse http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-older-poorer-more-diverse http://mn2020.org/8284 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Minnesota is changing. We&rsquo;re not the state that we were 100, 50 or 25 years ago. We&rsquo;re not even the state that we were in 2007 as the Great Recession began roaring across all 87 counties. Today, we&rsquo;re older, poorer and more diverse. That means that Minnesota&rsquo;s public policy initiatives must change to match Minnesota&rsquo;s needs. What worked in 1964 or 1994 won&rsquo;t work in the same way in 2014.</p> <p> If <a href="http://www.demography.state.mn.us/documents/SusanBrower_Cargill_Jan2014.pdf" target="_blank">current demographic trends</a> continue, by 2020, more Minnesotans will be 65 or older than will be school aged. This has never happened before. The simple reason is twofold. First, the baby boom generation is aging in good health, likely to live longer than any previous generation. Boomers have been the largest demographic group at every stage of their lives. We shouldn&rsquo;t expect that to change now thanks to better health care, diet and dramatically safer workplaces and roads. Second, the birthrate is down. People in their 20s and 30s are having fewer babies and having them later than earlier generations.</p> <p> This generational bulge will fade over the next 25 years as baby boomers slip quietly into that good night. In public policy terms, we have to both plan for where we&rsquo;d like to be in 25 years and plan for the demographic reality immediately before us. It&rsquo;s not one or the other but both.</p> <p> Given the demographic shift towards a growing number of older Minnesotans, healthcare costs related to an aging population will increase. Even with a healthier, better prepared aging population, costs associated with care experienced during the final two decades of life is more expensive than healthcare during the first two decades of life. This is not new news. We&rsquo;ve known that care costs increase with age for a very long time. Changing demographics however mean assessing a particularly noticeable spike in eldercare costs.</p> <p> Minnesota&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.jrlc.org/issues/end-poverty/poverty-in-minnesota-helpful-facts" target="_blank">poverty rate</a> is on the uptick. The resurging state economy will mitigate some of that growth but undereducated, lower-skilled workers lost ground in the Great Recession. As job growth in areas requiring post-secondary educational degrees increases, high school graduates and especially high school dropouts will find extremely limited opportunities for returning to work at pre-recession income earning levels. Absent additional schooling and training, these workers are at great risk of becoming a new, permanent underclass. That shift, in turn, will increase pressure on public resources as workers without post-secondary educations approach retirement with greater than average healthcare needs and little or no retirement savings.</p> <p> Minnesota&rsquo;s 1995 poverty rate was 9%. In 2011, that figure jumped to just below 12%. Since the Great Recession&rsquo;s recovery, high income earners have expanded both annual income and their total percentage of wealth while middle and low income earners&rsquo; incomes and accumulated wealth percentages were flat or declined. This is not a sustainable phenomenon. This income trend, if continued over time, suggests unsettling long-term negative consequences for community and family social stability.</p> <p> Let me say this again, only more bluntly. A very small slice of Minnesotans will make a lot of money; their incomes will rise steadily. Most Minnesotans&rsquo; incomes will remain stagnant. A much larger slice of Minnesotans, larger by both percentage and raw numbers than the wealthiest group, will experience real income decline. Most Minnesotans will become poorer rather than wealthier simply because their incomes won&rsquo;t keep pace with inflation.</p> <p> Conservative policy advocates will dismiss my data-driven observations as progressive whining. But, those same leaders are ignoring the lessons of Minnesota&rsquo;s post-World War II economy. It&rsquo;s much more profitable to sell a lot of stuff to many people rather than sell a few pricey items to a few people. A few luxury stores will always do well but the real money is in mass-scale retail at Target, CostCo, Sears, Supervalue and the like. For that sector to continue growing and earning profit, they need middle and low income customers with a rising rather than stagnating or falling incomes. The get-tough policy crowd may love wage stagnation but they are truly cutting off noses to spite faces.</p> <p> Immigration is Minnesota&rsquo;s great economic growth promise. Seven percent of Minnesotans are foreign born, suggesting that immigrants clearly recognize Minnesota&rsquo;s promise and potential. That&rsquo;s down, incidentally, from 20% in 1920 when pretty much most of us of were migrants or first generation offspring. Plus, immigration is projected to exceed Minnesota&rsquo;s birth rate by 2032.</p> <p> Immigration-driven population growth will charge Minnesota&rsquo;s economy and provide extraordinary opportunity for international market expansion. And the best part? We&rsquo;ve done this before. Minnesota&rsquo;s track record of immigrant economic development is exemplary. Immigrant business growth can and will mitigate the wealth accumulation threat casting a shadow across Minnesota and the US.</p> <p> Minnesota&rsquo;s public policy initiatives must quickly evolve to meet present and future circumstance. We always need strong schools, affordable healthcare, robust infrastructure and good jobs but we need responsive public policy to achieve the best return on public investment. Because Minnesota changes, policy must change. Minnesota&rsquo;s future success depends on it. We can sprint forward or fall behind; we just can&rsquo;t remain in place.</p> Fri, 09 May 2014 11:00:06 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Keeping Small Health Problems Small http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-keeping-small-health-problems-small http://mn2020.org/8247 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> MNSure&rsquo;s first open enrollment period closed with 170,000 registrants. That means 170,000 Minnesotans are expanding Minnesota&rsquo;s insurance risk and healthcare service pool, lowering everyone&rsquo;s costs while improving care. This big number has an immediate, practical application underscoring affordable healthcare&rsquo;s true value: access to healing care.</p> <p> Last week, I was diagnosed with pneumonia. I can&rsquo;t recommend the experience. I spent the previous week believing that I had whatever late season lung congestive crud that was going around. And, I may have. By Easter weekend, it wasn&rsquo;t getting better.</p> <p> When I confessed to my spouse that I was coughing up blood, she didn&rsquo;t go through the roof but did take me by the ear to Urgent Care. This was Tuesday, a week ago.</p> <p> I was promptly diagnosed. By noon, the chest x-ray and blood work results confirmed that, yes, in fact, I had pneumonia. Start to finish, from arriving at Urgent Care to ingesting the first pill, the whole process took four hours, tops. Antibiotics and rest are pneumonia&rsquo;s chief treatment therapy. That also sums my last ten days or so.</p> <p> My out-of-pocket costs were deceptively cheap. A twenty dollar Urgent Care co-pay, eight bucks of antibiotics and another $60 for pharmaceutical grade cough syrup and a nebulizer. For less than $100, I readily accessed and received the most efficient, attentive and speedy pneumonia treatment in human history. The key word here is deceptively. Focusing on out-of-pocket costs as the principal cost metric misses the healthcare mission and miracle.</p> <p> Consider the x-ray. German physicist Wilhelm Rontgen published his paper identifying x-rays&rsquo; properties in December 1895. A month after that, the x-ray was first used diagnostically, creating the field of medical imaging and transforming healthcare. One x-ray is astounding. Billions of x-rays, systemically used to guide treatment are nothing short of a miracle. They are fast, safe, effective and cheap.</p> <p> Volume makes the x-ray cheap but it&rsquo;s still a deceptive cost because it&rsquo;s only one link in a chain. The x-ray tech led me to lab, set up the exposure and processed the image for my Urgent Care doc. The staff Radiologist later studied my x-ray, affirming my pneumonia. The MDs involved, after finishing four-year undergrad degrees, attended four years of medical school followed by medical residency and, in the cast of the radiologist, probably two more years of specialized training. Add the RNs, specialty care techs, CNAs and administrative support staff, including all of the back-room paperwork processing staff that we never see, and reading my x-ray to diagnose my pneumonia is a monumental care achievement, repeated tens of thousands of times a day, all over Minnesota.</p> <p> I have no idea what that x-ray, much less my entire treatment cost. I know that my healthcare provider and my insurer have a service contract paying for my treatment but determining the stand-alone cost of a single element is just about impossible. I know that volume lowers cost just as the insurance plan&rsquo;s participant pools mitigates risk&rsquo;s cost by spreading costs among a larger group of people.</p> <p> Affordable healthcare serves everyone. It keeps small problems small. I&rsquo;m keenly aware of what happens when pneumonia is left unchecked. It kills you. My family, my community and my employer are best served by having a healthy me around, making productive contributions rather than being absent. That&rsquo;s the point that conservative healthcare reform critics miss. We all do better when we are all healthy, doing better. Yes, healthcare is expensive but innovation and organizational care efficiencies work to lower cost and improve health outcomes. The alternative is far costlier.</p> <p> MNSure&rsquo;s first open enrollment period is just that, it&rsquo;s first. There will be many more to come. Affordable healthcare is a program, a law, and an aspiration. Five years from now, we&rsquo;ll have a much clearer sense of what works and what needs improving. The program and the law will require improving but the aspiration remains unfettered.</p> <p> I hope that the 170,000 new MNSure enrollees don&rsquo;t experience pneumonia but we all rest easier knowing that they&rsquo;re part of the great affordable healthcare nexus that keeps everyone healthier. Experiencing ill health is central to the human condition. So is treatment and recovery. Being sick is normal but disease, in many cases, can be minimized. In return, we experience the hope expressed in the American Declaration of Independence as the inalienable rights of &ldquo;life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.&rdquo; If good health isn&rsquo;t happiness, I don&rsquo;t know what is.</p> Fri, 02 May 2014 11:00:17 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Our Flying Car Future http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-our-flying-car-future http://mn2020.org/8205 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> As legislative sessions go, this one is marked by relatively blip-free achievements. Progressive policy is taking a big step ahead after years of stutter-steps backwards. Striding forward, it&rsquo;s important to remember that we realize more from the journey than we do from the destination.</p> <p> Consider the higher profile victories. Minnesota passed a minimum wage increase for the first time since 2005 and it will be indexed for inflation. Legislators passed a school bullying bill that brings Minnesota schools up to speed with anti-bullying practices in peer states. Governor Dayton&rsquo;s business-to-business tax repeal proposal was adopted. The State House has passed the Women&rsquo;s Economic Security Act, a measure aimed at minimizing the gender equity gap in Minnesota workplaces. And, those are just the higher profile issues.</p> <p> There&rsquo;s still much to do before legislative adjournment. Policymakers must move a bonding bill, also known as a Capital Investments bill. This is the mechanism for financing large-scale public projects like roads, bridges, buildings and other physical infrastructure. Increasing regulation of payday loans, permitting limited sale of medical marijuana and a rail safety bill responding to increased western oil rail traffic rolling through Minnesota aren&rsquo;t finished.</p> <p> In response, Minnesota&rsquo;s elected conservative leaders have been largely quiet or sidelined, depending on perspective. They&rsquo;ve mostly opposed the above-detailed initiatives, sometimes loudly and sometimes with barely a perceptible murmur. That generally means one of two things.</p> <p> First, recognizing growing public support for an issue such as a minimum wage increase or greater anti-school bullying measures, conservative opponents quietly concede the ground. Pushing hard against a public that&rsquo;s already moved on is difficult if not impossible. Thus, the decision to let an issue go. Their second alternative, the choice of every minority legislative chamber caucus, is to make a strong oppositional case, force a vote, lose the vote and position the issue for the November public elections. Legislative Democrats did this to great effect in 2011 and 2012 but Republicans have, in earlier elections, used the tactic with equal success.</p> <p> I have another, broader suggestion, however. The conservative no-new-taxes/less government policy framework has run its course. Thirty years of insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy with the promise of demonstrable, positive trickle-down results for the non-wealthy hasn&rsquo;t born fruit. The real policy results have been wage stagnation, a weakening of the middle class and accelerating wealth accumulation among the very highest income earners. Those outcomes, over time, tend to alienate the very people that conservative policy promised to help. More freedom and liberty, as envisioned by conservative policy advocates, looks a lot like shoddier roads, shabby bridges, sliding public schools and stagnating economic growth. Consequently, it&rsquo;s hard to promise more-of-the-same as a policy and electoral strategy.</p> <p> For years, we&rsquo;ve convinced ourselves that flying cars are in our future. Between encouraging Popular Mechanics magazine articles, Hollywood and the human capacity to dream of slipping the surly bonds of earth, flying cars appear tantalizing close to reality. Except, of course, that they&rsquo;re not. As a practical matter, everything stops the flying car&rsquo;s everyday integration into our lives. It starts with adding a third, vertical axis to the mix. Going forward, backwards and side-to-side, the X and Y axis, is easy in a car. Adding, simultaneously, up and down capacity, is a game-changer. An essentially impossible to achieve game-changer.</p> <p> While <a href="http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/pber.html" target="_blank">Bernoulli&rsquo;s Equation</a> works efficiently in fixed-wing aircraft flight, applying it to other craft yields less efficient outcomes. Flying close to the ground requires a great deal of energy. The closest thing to an everyday flying car is probably the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_Boeing_V-22_Osprey" target="_blank">V-22 Osprey</a>,&nbsp; the US Marine Corps&rsquo; combined helicopter-airplane.</p> <p> When you get right down to it, the flying car isn&rsquo;t really a flying car; it&rsquo;s allegory for human expectation and, following the myth of <a href="http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/daedalus.html" target="_blank">Icarus and Daedalus</a>, a cautionary tale of hubris&rsquo; folly. Its application to Minnesota&rsquo;s public policy debate is clear and immediate. The journey is greater than the destination.</p> <p> Yes, we want a flying car but the science, engineering, research, legal, cultural and public application hurdles necessary to overcoming the flying car&rsquo;s production barriers are greater, more transformative achievements than any individual flying car. In public policy terms, creating strong schools, affordable healthcare, robust infrastructure and jobs is the greater outcome because we have to come together to achieve these goals.</p> <p> State policymakers have made real strides in addressing Minnesota&rsquo;s public policy needs. There&rsquo;s much more to be done but this session&rsquo;s achievements establish the groundwork for additional advance. Conservative policy leaders promise something very different from their actual goals. Progressive policy leaders, in contrast, are delivering on the progressive promise. Plus, there&rsquo;s more to come.</p> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:00:18 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: More Campaign Finance Transparency Needed http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-more-campaign-finance-transparency-needed http://mn2020.org/8188 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Minnesota conservative activists wasted no time trying to leverage the U.S. Supreme Court's recent campaign finance ruling. In <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/10/08/supreme-court-takes-up-the-sequel-to-citizens-united/" target="_blank">McCutcheon v FEC</a>, the Roberts court removed contributors&rsquo; aggregate contribution limits in a campaign cycle. This week, local conservatives announced a similar state <a href="http://blogs.mprnews.org/capitol-view/2014/04/group-sues-to-overturn-mn-campaign-finance-law/?elq=09b9b19a09ee43bca0963cc173fe5768&amp;elqCampaignId=6396" target="_blank">campaign finance law challenge</a>, removing <a href="http://www.cfboard.state.mn.us/handbook/hb_lobbyist.pdf" target="_blank">special source</a> contribution limits.</p> <p> In the post-Watergate campaign reform era, there&rsquo;s never been a better time to be a well-heeled contributor. If you possess considerable wealth and a strong desire to fund political campaigns, the world is your oyster. The rest of us? That&rsquo;s a different story with a harder, longer slog forward.</p> <p> It&rsquo;s important to remember that we enjoy unparalleled rights in this county. Under the U.S. Constitution, when it comes to political opinion, we can shoot our mouths off about almost anything. I can call every President, Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader deeply complicit war criminals whether I&rsquo;m posting to my blog, writing a thoughtful letter-to-the-editor or elbowed up at O&rsquo;Gara&rsquo;s Bar in St Paul without fear of imprisonment. Most citizens of most other nations do not enjoy this privileged protection.</p> <p> But, what do we do with freedom of speech guarantees? Mostly, it turns out, very little. When the McCutcheon decision was announced, it was met by frustrated shrugs. Very thoughtful public thinkers and writers wrote smart columns in major national news publications but they clearly weren&rsquo;t expecting to stoke simmering public ire. Mostly they seemed resigned to registering their objections for posterity&rsquo;s record. A week later, mainstream reaction is best summarized as &ldquo;meh.&rdquo;</p> <p> The collective shrug reflects a judicial reality. The McCutcheon case further articulates the Court&rsquo;s arguments in the earlier landmark <a href="http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/558/08-205/ " target="_blank">Citizens United</a> decision. Free speech rights, the Roberts Court majority ruled, trump money regulation. McCutcheon essentially globs more icing on that cake.</p> <p> Since restrictions of political speech&rsquo;s regulation seem destined to fall, what are the rest of us, concerned about concentrated wealth&rsquo;s unrestricted influence on political decision making, going to do? Dangling the promise of public financing in return for contribution and/or spending limits suggests one route. I&rsquo;m not sure that, given well-financed opposition, policymakers are willing to commit enough public resources to make public financing an enticing alternative. To work, public financing can&rsquo;t provide a little money. It would need to be enough money to buy more television advertising than campaigns are currently able to raise. Frankly, that&rsquo;s unlikely.</p> <p> As a result, we&rsquo;re left with the harder, longer march toward democratic progress. We have to convince roughly 60 percent of Americans that big money financing conservative campaigns isn&rsquo;t creating policy benefitting the 60 percent&rsquo;s lives. And, that conservative policy is making all lives more difficult.</p> <p> This is a generational challenge on par with the anti-smoking campaigns, the stop-highway-littering effort and Smokey the Bear&rsquo;s forest fire prevention consciousness raising. We&rsquo;re going to have convince people that a few campaign funders providing the campaign money and, by extension, calling the policy shots, is bad for our future. We must relentlessly repeat ourselves. We&rsquo;re going to have to make the case, over and over, of ill consequences and change&rsquo;s necessity. It won&rsquo;t be easy nor quickly realized.</p> <p> Start by understanding that everything achieved through greater campaign finance disclosure is woefully inadequate. It&rsquo;s great to have federal and state databases recording campaign contributions and expenditures. But, nobody really accesses them, at least not to significant effect. Even periodic reports examining aspects of campaign fundraising and spending, crafted to gauge policy agendas manipulated through electoral financing, aren&rsquo;t enough if the report sits on the research group&rsquo;s coffee table. We must better communicate the problem.</p> <p> Not so long ago in Minnesota, graft was tolerated. Welcomed, even. Graft is the use of government position for personal financial gain. Its ubiquity remains the case in most of the world, understood as the way things get done. Need a permit processed faster? Clip a fifty dollar bill to the paperwork. Slip a finsky to the parking enforcement officer to look the other way. Or, in an egregious case a few years, sell President Obama&rsquo;s vacated Illinois US Senate seat to the highest bidder.</p> <p> Now, graft is unacceptable behavior, robustly punished. We are much better off with strong, professional civil, public safety and law enforcement services. It&rsquo;s time to apply the same expectation to big money in politics. Wealthy donors have every right to express opinion but drowning out my voice and those of my neighbors tips policy consideration towards concentrated wealth&rsquo;s interests and away from the 99 percent&rsquo;s. That&rsquo;s not good for the democracy.</p> <p> Minnesota and the nation need greater campaign finance transparency. Candidly, efforts must start with the philanthropic community because conservatives in government will block public funding. Good public policy flows from an honest assessment of need. In turn, unbiased data drives definition of need. It&rsquo;s time to start kicking that rock over, exposing it sunshine. Daily, not once every two years.</p> Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:00:57 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: The Zero-Sum Game http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-the-zero-sum-game http://mn2020.org/8158 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Conservative fiscal policy is rooted in the idea that the economic pie&rsquo;s size never changes. Public budgets, therefore, must also remain fixed, locked in place regardless of demographic and economic factors. And, gain may only come from loss. For winners to win, losers must always lose.</p> <p> Nothing could be further from the truth yet this concept substantially guides Minnesota&rsquo;s public policy environment. We see it in the minimum wage increase debate. We find it in property tax relief arguments. We observe it in the very conceptualization of Minnesota&rsquo;s biennial budget: increasing a public budget results in diminished personal resources. Until we get past this fallacy, Minnesota&rsquo;s growth will always be compromised.</p> <p> A <a href="http://www.investopedia.com/terms/z/zero-sumgame.asp" target="_blank">zero-sum game</a> is an economics concept that resources are fixed. One party&rsquo;s gain may only come from another party&rsquo;s loss. The gain-loss equation must always balance. While this concept has an attractive simplicity, much like reducing an algebra problem to its core elements to facilitate answering, it&rsquo;s also wrong. As mathematician <a href="http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/1994/nash-bio.html" target="_blank">John Nash</a> revealed in <a href="http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/whatis.htm" target="_blank">game-theory</a>, there is need for and application of zero-sum games but understanding the zero-sum gain&rsquo;s misapplication is key to refuting the underlying fallacy.</p> <p> Economies are not closed-loop systems. They grow and contract. Human activity translates into economic growth as people act on financial impulses and incentives. Understanding this phenomenon requires distinguishing addition and subtraction from multiplication. Economic activity is a multiplicative activity, not a function of addition.</p> <p> Economies are measured by the value of their inputs and outputs. If Minnesota&rsquo;s economy is $100 and it grows by five percent, the starting value for the new measuring period is $105. A year later, new valuation is determined and the difference between the starting and ending figure is calculated, announced as a percentage increase.</p> <p> More importantly, economic inputs&mdash;capital, labor, overhead&mdash;create a multiple of the dedicated inputs. Under a zero-sum game, if adding all the inputs yields a sum of 100, then output can also be no more than 100. For the output to exceed the input in this equation, the input must be devalued prior to its inclusion in the formula. Because the equation must balance, the input factors can&rsquo;t combine for more than the output factors. Because economies are multiplicative, each input multiplies the impact of the others. The outcome is growth.</p> <p> Conservatives, for all of their insistence on market-oriented solutions, seem to miss this point.</p> <p> Public budgets are, themselves, economic multipliers. They do not replace market activities but because public spending is a function of public priorities backed by publicly generated dollars, those dollars' economic impacts are multiplied in the economy. If I pay somebody $10 for an hour of snow shoveling, that $10 conservatively translates into $20 of new economic activity as the shoveler makes additional purchasing decisions. The worst thing is the absence of economic activity. If I don&rsquo;t shovel my walk, the larger economy loses the spending activity driven by my wage payment. Economic activity stagnates or even shrinks because I do nothing.</p> <p> We recently observed this phenomenon in <a href="http://www.maynardkeynes.org/maynard-keynes-economics.html" target="_blank">Keynesian</a> economic stimulation. In a recession, normal economic activity stalls and even reverses. The government borrows money, invests in public stimulative spending to jumpstart the return to mean. Doing nothing maintains the slow-down as spending shrinks. Belt tightening might be a good short-term strategy for a family but its part of larger chain of activity that makes living with less permanent rather than temporary.</p> <p> Minimum wage increase opponents apply the zero-sum game fallacy to fight the proposed wage increase. The hospitality industry has been particularly out front. They argue that paying minimum wage workers more will result in spending less on some other facet of the business. However, other costs&mdash;food, electricity, insurance, dish soap&mdash;increase regularly. Restaurant owners respond by raising menu prices and creating value that extends past the food consumed. They don&rsquo;t testify before legislative committees that dish soap&rsquo;s rising price will put them out of business.</p> <p> Don&rsquo;t get sucked into the zero-sum game trap. Minnesota&rsquo;s economy is not a card game with a winner emerging at one or more loser&rsquo;s expense. Even this relatively recent recession, the worst economic period since the 1930s Great Depression, wasn&rsquo;t long lived. The contraction quickly corrected but subsequent growth rates were unusually slow, creating the illusion of continued contraction. Minnesota&rsquo;s economy grew, it just didn&rsquo;t feel like it was growing.</p> <p> Treating the economy and, in particular, public budgets, as elements in a zero-sum game only serves to intensify consumer pain rather than alleviate it. Growth is always the goal. Everyone does better, as the late Senator Paul Wellstone sagely observed, when everyone does better.</p> <p> Let&rsquo;s discard the zero-sum game fallacy. It has no place in Minnesota&rsquo;s public policy debate. Addressing real problems like wage stagnation and income&rsquo;s concentration into fewer, wealthier hands, properly focuses the mind and, by extension, guides smart policy decisions. To move Minnesota forward, be smart.</p> Fri, 04 Apr 2014 11:00:55 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: MNSure is Working! http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/mnsure-is-working http://mn2020.org/8133 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> Minnesotans are purchasing healthcare insurance through <a href="https://www.mnsure.org/" target="_blank">MNsure</a>, the state&rsquo;s health insurance exchange. The first open enrollment period closes this Monday, March 31. <a href="http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/03/25/health/mnsure-enrollment-goals?from=health" target="_blank">Widely reported</a>, over 136,000 Minnesotans signed up, suggesting that conservative predictions of Obamacare&rsquo;s failure and demise were greatly exaggerated. Lost in this moment is healthcare reform&rsquo;s alternative and what we&rsquo;d be experiencing if the <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform/healthcare-overview" target="_blank">Affordable Care Act</a> hadn&rsquo;t passed.</p> <p> Conservative policy advocates really hate Obamacare. At least judging by their rhetoric and repeated political and policy actions working to undermine or eliminate the Affordable Care Act, reasonable people would conclude that conservatives really hate Obamacare. But recall that Obamacare, broadly cast, is an updated version of a Republican policy alternative to the 1993 Clinton healthcare reform initiatives.</p> <p> Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, well before he ran for President, championed state healthcare reform. His <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/2013/0929/Romneycare-vs.-Obamacare-Lessons-for-today-s-shutdown-debacle-video" target="_blank">proposal</a>, &ldquo;An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care,&rdquo; required every Massachusetts citizen to purchase health insurance. By requiring participation, the plan created a very large risk pool allowing for lower premiums due to the pool&rsquo;s large size. It further facilitated lower costs through the large pool&rsquo;s increased purchasing and negotiating power. Central to the entire concept is attempting to bring market competition to a highly regulated and, in many cases, decidedly uncompetitive or at least weirdly, counterintuitively uncompetitive healthcare marketplace.</p> <p> Romney looked like a hero for his Massachusetts plan until he realized that it was a political liability as a conservative presidential aspirant. Then, he took a different, oppositional tack. But, I&rsquo;m not interested in Gov. Romney&rsquo;s rationale for changing policy directions. Rather, I view the Romney reversal as a reflection of larger conservative pressures on policy direction. What was viewed as a conventional conservative policy approach&mdash;greater reliance on market mechanisms and competitive structure&mdash;has, in the past ten years, been replaced by a new, obstinate conservative policy perspective rooted in opposition without regard to need or even outcome.</p> <p> In that light, it&rsquo;s useful to consider the alternative to Obamacare, especially at this moment of its implementation. The short version? We&rsquo;d still be living with the previous forms of healthcare insurance. Costs would be skyrocketing for both public and private insurance plans. Off-kilter financial incentivization would continue driving care and reimbursement practices. A screwed-up system would continue intensifying the very elements that screwed it up in the first place.</p> <p> I disagree with much of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty&rsquo;s public policy advocacy but he was absolutely correct when he observed that the previous healthcare system was financially unsustainable. Cost growth projections, unless changed, would threaten to collapse the entire healthcare system. In that regard, Pawlenty was right. I opposed his alternative healthcare policy direction then and now which is to essentially do less for people with the hope that somehow they&rsquo;ll be able to do more on their own.</p> <p> The Affordable Care Act is not the end-all of being. It&rsquo;s a start. It already requires improvement but it&rsquo;s better than the alternative which is returning to an unsustainable healthcare funding system. Or worse, moving forward with a new version of the old plan.</p> <p> People face considerable obstacles to realizing truly affordable healthcare. There&rsquo;s the massive weight of insurance companies commanding extraordinary purchasing power and phenomenal informational insight into customer and vendor behavior. Earlier laws prohibiting people from organizing themselves into larger insurance purchasing pools, mitigating individual healthcare risks by spreading risk over a large group, is addressed in ACA by essentially creating a large-if-loose group served by the state insurance exchanges. The key is finding paths forward, toppling barriers by turning liabilities into assets.</p> <p> Remember the biblical story of <a href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+17" target="_blank">David and Goliath</a>. Goliath was a skilled, experienced and physically imposing warrior. Philistine leaders were so confident of Goliath&rsquo;s prowess that they were willing to stake the conflict&rsquo;s outcome on a single combat result. David, in contrast, was not conventionally skilled, experienced or strong. However, David won because he changed the fight&rsquo;s rules. David used technology to keep Goliath beyond Goliath&rsquo;s arm reach while skillfully projecting force over distance. David used his sling, in effect artillery, to concentrate a projectile&rsquo;s impact.</p> <p> Sticking with the previous health insurance system would&rsquo;ve created a poor outcome. Conservative objection to healthcare reform, including its manifestation through the ACA, courts disaster. Loudly insisting that Obamacare is a failure purposefully misleads people.</p> <p> Despite the attacks and the implementation glitches, 136,000 Minnesotans individually chose to enroll in a health insurance program through MNsure. By day&rsquo;s end on March 31, that number will be higher. Every enrollee reminds us that moving forward is a necessary and worthy goal and reinforces a core Minnesota value. We make our lives better by working at it every day. The past guides but doesn&rsquo;t trap us.</p> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 11:00:42 +0000 Minnesota 2020 Journal: Objecting to Injustice Isn’t Whining http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/journal/minnesota-2020-journal-objecting-to-injustice-isnt-whining http://mn2020.org/8108 <p> By John Van Hecke, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}John Van Hecke, Publisher </p> <p> The Minnesota Women&rsquo;s Economic Security Act, proposed legislation aimed to decrease gender pay inequity, is moving from committee hearing to committee vote to floor vote. A conservative female legislator&rsquo;s off the cuff remark created a <a href="http://www.woodburybulletin.com/content/kieffer-responds-fallout-whiners-remark" target="_blank">media dust-up</a> revealing two critical points of conflict. First, women are still earning less than male counterparts for similar work. Second, paternalistic, patriarchal frames remain firmly in place.</p> <p> Minnesota&rsquo;s highest income earners pay less in state taxes as a percentage of their total tax burden relative to income than do low and middle income earners. While modestly altered in the 2013 tax bill creating a fourth, higher income tax tier, the fundamentals of Minnesota&rsquo;s income tax structure have been in place since the Ventura Administration. This disparity was regularly raised in successive state elections. Minnesota&rsquo;s middle income-earning majority didn&rsquo;t like the fact that they paid a higher effective tax rate but the political dial didn&rsquo;t move until the 2012 elections.</p> <p> While Governor Mark Dayton, succeeding conservative no-new-taxes champion Governor Tim Pawlenty in the 2010 election, pushed a tax increase agenda, conservative legislative chamber majorities blocked his efforts. They doubled down on the conservative policy agenda. State policy continued compelling local property tax hikes and school, city and county budget cuts. Two years later, voters replaced the chambers&rsquo; conservative majorities with progressives. A legislative direction change ensued. I don&rsquo;t know that simply reversing disastrous conservative public policies constitutes &ldquo;progressive&rdquo; policy but it&rsquo;s a start.</p> <p> What does this have to do with gender pay inequality? Stay with me.</p> <p> <a href="http://www.aauw.org/resource/gender-pay-gap-by-state-and-congressional-district/" target="_blank">Women earn less money than men</a> for performing the same work. That&rsquo;s been true for as long as Minnesota started measuring gender pay equity. In the most recent estimates, Minnesota women workers earn approximately 80% of the same pay that male counterparts earn. In simple terms, if I make a thousand dollars a week programming computers or even directing traffic around a road construction project, a woman worker doing the same job will make $800.</p> <p> The reason for this phenomenon is complex. There&rsquo;s a deep, rich body of academic and economic <a href="http://www.aauw.org/resource/gender-pay-gap-by-state-and-congressional-district/ " target="_blank">research literature</a> exploring work compensation and gender roles. You could easily spend a lifetime reading it and mulling its conclusions. But, here&rsquo;s the short version: it really boils down to insisting that women&rsquo;s work has less value than men&rsquo;s work because it is performed by women. As women moved into the contemporary workplace, that prejudice followed. Women, by virtue of gender, devalued the work they performed, they argument goes. Therefore, women&rsquo;s work compensation was necessarily reduced. That doesn&rsquo;t explain why, within this framework, men would be paid more for doing the same job but it certainly reveals gender prejudice.</p> <p> Several days ago, <a href="http://act.abetterminnesota.org/sign/WESA/?ak_proof=1&amp;akid=.75635.Y5f-7H&amp;rd=1&amp;t=1" target="_blank">State Representative Andrea Kieffer</a> (R-Woodbury) said during a House committee meeting, &quot;These bills are putting us backwards in time. We are losing the respect that we so dearly want in the workplace by bringing up all of these special bills for women and almost making us look like whiners.&quot; Specifically, she was addressing legislative language requiring paid-leave but her statement ignited the simmering gender equality debate, engaging advocates and opponents across the country. It even made <a href="http://time.com/30507/equal-pay-andrea-kieffer-whiners/" target="_blank">Time magazine</a>, reflecting the fight&rsquo;s veracity, reminding us that no one, ever, likes being marginalized.</p> <p> Rep. Kieffer&rsquo;s remarks came during a hearing on the <a href="http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/members/pressrelease.asp?pressid=8183&amp;party=1&amp;memid=10791" target="_blank">Women&rsquo;s Economic Security Act</a>. This bill proposes creating a paid-leave requirement, increasing the state&rsquo;s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, and expanding access to affordable, high-quality child care. It will try to reduce barriers to women&rsquo;s economic success.</p> <p> Here&rsquo;s the thing to remember. Everything that&rsquo;s been done to date to increase pay equality, strengthen families and grow economic security has decreased the pay equality gap. Still, considerable barriers remain. Doing nothing more will likely keep the numbers and the workplace experience exactly as they are today. Holding steady in the face of defined need isn&rsquo;t progress. A barrier is a barrier until it&rsquo;s removed.</p> <p> Why is championing pay equality, paid leave and affordable childcare &ldquo;whining&rdquo; when vigorously advocating for tax policy that overwhelmingly favors the very highest income earners seen as legitimate public policy discourse? Because it draws back the curtain on the inseparability of gender marginalization as a well-tested strategy for maintaining economic injustice. Advocate for conservative policy initiatives and the &ldquo;whining&rdquo; objection evaporates.</p> <p> Building a stronger, better Minnesota means helping lots of people of modest economic means live more securely. Equal pay for equal work translates directly into increased family income. Affordable, high quality childcare increases workforce capacity and productivity. Raising the minimum wage will raise wages for more women workers than it will for men. Addressing these injustices and reducing the barriers to family and community stability isn&rsquo;t whining, it&rsquo;s progress. And, it feels pretty good.</p> Fri, 21 Mar 2014 11:00:45 +0000