Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Discussion: MN Progressive Policy, What’s Next?

May 06, 2014 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

How close is MN to a progressive utopia?

In the last two years, with progressive state policy leadership, we’ve moved forward faster than anyone could have imagined, especially after the Pawlenty years. We now have a fairer tax system, better school funding, all-day kindergarten, a strong anti-bullying policy, marriage equality, a higher minimum wage indexed to inflation, and we’re about to make a major investment in our state’s infrastructure.

We’re still far from a progressive utopia. After all, Seattle just passed a $15 minimum wage. So what’s next?

Share your ideas! Which policy areas remain largely unaddressed in Minnesota?

Minnesota 2020 staff and writers will stop by to share some of their own ideas. The discussion continues all day.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Monica Williams says:

    May 6, 2014 at 7:09 am

    Housing, from supportive, emergency, subsidized, to market rate that allow the working poor to live near jobs. 2 bedroom apartments average $800 a month in Bloomington an area of many of the retail and food industry jobs.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      May 6, 2014 at 8:20 am

      I really like this priority, Monica. So many aspects of our lives depend on having safe, affordable housing from which we can access jobs, schools, and other parts of our community. Thank you for raising this point, and for sharing the details in Bloomington!

  • Jim W says:

    May 6, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Raising the minimum wage will help, but only to a certain point. Raise it too high and Minnesota will become non competitive. Long term we need to invest in areas that will strengthen our economy and make all our workers competitive world wide. We need to continue to invest in education especially to eliminate the gap between the majority and minorities and between the poor and the rest of the population. We need to reduce the cost of higher education so that it is affordable to all. We need to invest in infrastructure so that businesses have the resources and quality transportation they need. We cannot afford to have another 35W bridge collapse.

  • Fred Downing says:

    May 6, 2014 at 7:30 am

    I think the biggest issue in Minnesota, USA and World is income disparity. Three of the ways we can level that out is thru taxes, wages and fees for services. I think we should be unrelenting in our persuit of fairness in these areas.

    • Jeff Van Wychen, MN 2020 says:

      May 6, 2014 at 8:11 am

      I agree that income inequality is the biggest problem confronting the global economy.  I further agree with Fred that greater tax fairness (i.e., reduced regressivity) is one way to deal with it.  Another approach—possibly more powerful—is to increase the ability of working people to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

  • Joe says:

    May 6, 2014 at 7:32 am

    From Jeff Van Wychen, via email:
    On the tax front, the biggest item remaining on the progressive agenda is also the most difficult to accomplish: structural reform of the tax system.  By “structural reform,” I mean a systematic effort to identify and eliminate all of the unnecessary exemptions, deductions, exclusions, and other preferences littered throughout the tax system.  While some tax preferences are worthwhile, many others are not achieving any public good commensurate to their cost to the state in terms of lost revenue and additional complexity.  Step one in structural tax reform will be to identify which tax preferences are inefficient and unnecessary.

    • cathy says:

      May 6, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Regarding taxes… businesses are holding local governments and communities hostage. They demand tax abatement. So, who is left to pay the taxes for schools and cities? The burden has shifted to the middle class. City & County governments along with school boards are being bullied.

  • Mike T. says:

    May 6, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Hard work will never pay off; we all know that.  Koch brothers, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie; pure luck to attain their riches.  It’s a good thing we have the government to take care of the rest of us.  Trickle down poverty works for me!

    • Sarah Lahm says:

      May 6, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      There are lots of jobs that require an intense amount of hard work. Some of them lead to incredible wealth, while many do not. Often, of course, we equate work that matters with how wealthy someone becomes.

      It’s clear that the government often provides the infrastructure to help a few lucky individuals, such as those you mentioned, obtain incredible wealth. What comes after the wealth is what I find fascinating. Will Mark Zuckerberg become our Andrew Carnegie? Hmm….

  • Mary Sullivan says:

    May 6, 2014 at 7:35 am

    We’ve got a long way to go. Too many people are still being left behind. The minimum wage increase doesn’t kick in fast enough. We still have children who are not getting quality “daycare” or early childhood education.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      May 6, 2014 at 8:23 am

      I very much agree with your point on early childhood education. While the current scholarship program run by the state is a start, I’d like to see much more investment in district-provided options that are high-quality and free at the point of delivery for parents. So many of our best district programs have long waiting lists, and it would be great to see more of those cleared. This is also an area that can be helped by state investment and/or by local activism, as demonstrated by the recent contract campaign in Saint Paul, which should expand pre-K to most or all of the families currently on the waiting list.

  • John Van Hecke says:

    May 6, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Minnesotans aren’t remotely saving enough money to meet their projected retirement needs. We must create a paycheck deduction retirement savings program for every Minnesota worker. The State Legislature considered this initiative and, despite well-established need, voted to further study the problem. What’s it going to take to implement what is a fundamentally conservative retirement savings plan?

  • Rachel says:

    May 6, 2014 at 7:47 am

    From Mary Treacy, via email:

    I would like to put in a word for open government.  Mark Ritchie has done an great job of welcoming the “hackers” to his Open Capitol initiative.  He has also taken part in an extraordinary interview re. the idea of why the current push to open government matters.  (vimeo  We have incredible energy in Minnesota, fueled by those who want to make government more accessible.  My hope is to harness that energy towards a grander purpose of helping us all understand the information thread that runs through everything — farm policy, climate, clean water, food safety and security, transportation, consumer rights, whatever.  We need to think systemically about the ways in which data/information drive decisions and aggressively matter – and why we need to be engaged.  Then we can look to open government to share the information/data on which The Deciders decide. Good government does not lead, but responds to public pressure — in Minnesota at least.  My hope is that the “hackers” will come to understand the subtle power of the information chain.  We are smart people, able and willing to learn and share.  The idea of why and how we need open government should be on our agenda.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      May 6, 2014 at 8:16 am

      Great point, Mary!  I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately, also partially prompted by Mark Ritchie’s vision on this topic.  Our state information systems could use a major investment and overhaul with an eye toward making information about our state interactive and useful for third-party app builders and researchers.  It’d be a good start just to get municipal, county, and state data talking to each other so that we can harness the information we already track. 

      I linked to this a few weeks back, but I’ll bring it back into the discussion here that <a >“Great Britain just did a major data and technology interface overhaul</a>, so that their whole country now has one, unified, very user-friendly website for all government services, including healthcare, business administration, driver’s licenses, and everything else.  They also took notes on how they did it so others could learn from their successes and failures.

  • Steve Fletcher says:

    May 6, 2014 at 8:05 am

    While we’ve made populist gains in some areas, bank consolidation has left us vulnerable to the erosion of democratic decision making.  Two banks, US Bank and Wells Fargo, control close to 2/3 of the total deposits in our state.  Executives from those banks chair groups like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership that lobby on a whole range of issues, and are often our biggest adversaries.  The more reliant our state’s economy is allowed to become on them for financing big projects, small business lending, and more, the more leverage they have in the political sphere. 

    If we are to build Minnesota into a progressive utopia, we’ll need to create the infrastructure for the people of Minnesota to be more in charge of their own financial power.  North Dakota maintains a state bank that has been a source of affordable lending and a vehicle for encouraging investments in the public good.  Their student loan program gives North Dakota college students access to more affortable student loans.  The ND state bank is also currently running a special lending program to entice investment in needed medical infrastructure in the state.  Most importantly: it provides a baseline for the rest of the banking industry in North Dakota, giving each North Dakota resident a banking alternative if their commercial bank doesn’t maintain high standards of service.  In my progressive utopia, people have more power over banks.

    • Lee Egerstrom says:

      May 6, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Steve - You’ve just jogged a memory that suggests your call for a look at the Bank of North Dakota may be more pragmatic than utopian thinking. I recently attended a significant conference “out east,” as Kerkhoven farm boys call it, where the bank was a topic of broad social justice discussions. Gary Dorrien delivered the keynote address at this conference. He holds the Reinhold Niebuhr endowed chair in ethics at Union Theological Seminary in NY and is one of America’s foremost public speakers. He called on faith-based organizations to team with allies in labor, cooperatives and nonprofit organizations to pick up where the Occupy Movement left off. Specifically, he called for more cooperative business and service development, expansion of the credit union system, and where possible and in tandem with credit unions, develop alternatives to Wall Street such as the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. The middle class cannot be sustained and income inequality cannot be corrected without these actions, he said.

      • Lee Egerstrom says:

        May 6, 2014 at 9:43 am

        Another flashback: Dorrien also told the conference referenced above that there is movement in 20 states to create something like the financial institution in North Dakota as a market correcting device in the face of concentrated financial power of Wall Street and money center banks. While none look imminent, he said, this is the “push bank” from the people.

  • Michael Diedrich says:

    May 6, 2014 at 8:18 am

    In education, the next wave of progressive policies might look something like this:
    - Transformation of more and more public schools into full-service community schools that can coordinate and co-locate a range of social services provided by public agencies and the nonprofit sector
    - Adoption of an explicitly anti-racist, anti-sexist approach to education that uses the institutional power of schools to combat other sources of institutional and structural racism rather than perpetuating it
    - Investment in districts’ early childhood programs so that all families know they have access to a high quality, free-to-use public option
    - Incorporation of a range of democratic elements that empower families, community members, teachers, and students in improving schools
    - Expansion of opportunities for deeper learning that emphasizes identity and creativity, not just mastery, as reflected in student-driven, project-based learning

    • Sarah Lahm says:

      May 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      Good points, Michael. I think community-led decision-making, along with the full service community school model, could go along way towards adding the stability and flexibility it seems our most school-dependent communities are in desperate need of. I just spent the morning at a high poverty school, where many of the children are in crisis and need immediate and sustained help. While there, I learned that a narrow focus on test scores as the only measure of this school’s success is holding the school back in some important ways. Progressive education policy would allow for this school community help shape its own goals and measures of success, and to have a more powerful means of advocating for the school, the staff, and the broader community.

  • Colleen O'Connor Toberman says:

    May 6, 2014 at 8:26 am

    I haven’t seen racial disparities mentioned yet. While we’ve made some gains on reducing poverty, unemployment, etc. in general, we still have some of the nation’s worst racial gaps in education, employment, and wealth. We can’t be a “utopia” until we figure how to bring everyone along for the ride.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      May 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

      Very important point.  Where would people like to see progressives focus their attention on racial justice?  What should be the priority for targeted investment or focused policy reform that addresses those gaps?

  • Lee Egerstrom says:

    May 6, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Joe - I don’t know if you want extra baggage from the past, but I think any approach to identifying a “progressive utopia” must go back to Plato’s quest for an ideal (The Republic). Unfortunately, most references after 19th Century experiments with creating utopian communities have discredited the word “utopian” as foolhardy, unrealistic exercises. Let’s stick with Plato’s approach so we can explore ideas that could not become Minnesota law in the final week of our legislative session.

    From an economic development perspective, we can’t make bold steps forward to a more utopian Minnesota. State and federal laws and international trade rules limit what we can do by providing greater protection of property rights at the expense of personal, human or civil rights. What we end up with is a “monkey see, monkey do” approach to development policies shaped by other states and sometimes other countries in which we give away even more civil rights while subsidizing property rights. Not surprisingly, critics have described this folly as the “race to bottom.”

    Granted, we Minnesotans have backed away from the worst examples of the race to the bottom in recent years. But I think Plato would encourage us to take an entirely fresh look at what we are doing, should be doing, and at who benefits from our doing anything.

    The only such vehicle out there comes from the little country of Bhutan. It is the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) that attempts to substitute for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measurements. Other nations - especially in Latin America - are toying with adopting their own variations of GNH. It would be fun to have Minnesota public officials, academics, nonprofit organization leaders and the creatively curious from business and the professions - not lobbyists for the status quo - wade in on defining and measuring what we do well and what we could or should be doing.

    You can learn more about Bhutan’s GNH from the Centre for Bhutan Studies ( and especially from its online A Short Guide to Gross National Happiness Index (

    It has domains for measure that encompass all of Minnesota 2020’‘s “issues that matter,” including psychological wellbeing, health, education, culture, good governance and time use. More specific to my realm of economic development, domains also include community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.

    I will come back during the day with little items that Minnesotans might consider that would move our state forward towards a more utopian society. But wouldn’t it be fun to look at where we’re at, and where we might be going, from an entirely fresh approach to measuring and thinking?

  • steve wilson says:

    May 6, 2014 at 8:50 am

    We still need single payer universal healthcare and reduce college costs.  If you graduate from a Minnesota college you should receive a 25% reduction in your student loan debt.  We should also switch more to grants instead of loans for college aid as well as use ourbudget surpluse to fund the UM endowment

  • Kathy Brown says:

    May 6, 2014 at 9:00 am

    What is frightening me right now, are the proposals being made regarding mining in our State. The Polymet mining situation is something that, once begun, will change the face of our State forever. In their own words, Polymet has stated that it will take 500 years to return our environment to what it was prior to the mining. The chemicals that will be unleashed once it starts will leach into all of our water including Lake Superior and the Mississippi. Our pristine BWCA and Northwoods will forever change.  They are also considering mining in the Southern part of our State for the sand that is used in fracking. So, again, changing our environment for a few temporary jobs and $$.  Our DNR has spoken in favor of the Polymet proposal. What are your thoughts.

  • kay kessel says:

    May 6, 2014 at 9:00 am

    It was shameful to watch the Governor’s state of the state and see the reaction the Republicans to not support 3.5 million to assure that all low income children have equal lunches.  We are on the tipping point for either caring about all Minnesotans or if Republican Governor gets back in power- not caring! They will do more harm to our communities of color, our mass incarceration and having 70,000 Minnesotans with records have trouble finding jobs, housing, reuniting with their families, being able to vote, raising children to succeed in school. The Progressives haven’t stood up for them either.  Why does Governor Dayton have to shoulder all this?

    The bonding bill should be about housing for homeless, providing a water pipeline in southern Minn and infrastructure—not the Children’s Museum that serves middle and upper class families.  It is expensive to take your family there.  So is the Zoo!

    There were many social issues that neither party addressed because of their vulnerability in the 2014 elections.

  • Sally Jo Sorensen says:

    May 6, 2014 at 9:26 am

    We need to continue to reform our local food system, not just by creating more farmers markets, but fostering food hubs and small growers distribution co-ops, ensuring that young people who want to enter agriculture as sustainable food producers are able to secure an affordable education in small-scale farm management, and to make healthful locally-grown food accessible to low-income Minnesotans across the state (expanding programs for using SNAP and WIC at markets and CSAs).

    More wonky: it’s also important that Minnesota defend its corporate farm law, an issue that Land Stewardship Project and the Minnesota Farmers Union have monitored for years. Few Minnesotans outside of farming realize that the legislature enacted a law in the 1970s that limits the ability of corporations to own and operate farms.  Family farmers are able to create family farm corporations, but ordinary corporations cannot directly engage in farming in Minnesota (the poultry industry, which was already vertically integrated by the time the law was enacted, is exempt from the law,and a few existing corporate-run were grandfathered in).  It’s important that Minnesota keep this law on the books and enforce it (and perhaps beef it up); groups like ALEC want to get rid of any legal barriers from corporate ownership of agriculture.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      May 6, 2014 at 10:22 am

      Our comment system needs a “like” button. Land Stewardship Project and MFU are doing great work, and there’s a lot the rest of us can do to support and amplify that work to maintain sustainable, family farming.  Thanks, Sally Jo!

  • Salman Mitha says:

    May 6, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Income and wealth inequality are increasing and are hiding that fact that many people are not doing well. Why don’t we just measure how everyone is doing? I would suggest that the state create a metric, average income of the bottom 90%. Not the bottom 50%, but the bottom 90% an overwhelming majority. A second metric to track would be the net worth of the bottom 90%. Track these two metrics from year to year. Use these two numbers, not the stock market or the per capita GDP as a measure of economic and state success. After all it was Ronald Reagan who asked “Are you better of?” Well, lets ask that and then track it.

  • cathy says:

    May 6, 2014 at 9:34 am

    I am so tired of hearing the propaganda from hate radio and F__ News. I hear it from my neighbors, letters to the editor in the newspaper and the parroting on the street. I keep waiting for the other side to correct it, but it doesn’t come. We have friends who used to be reasonable and are now arming themselves “against the government.” The incident with the rancher in the S.W. is just the tip of the iceberg. There are crazy militias all over our country. They are just waiting for a cause to attack. Something has got to bring people back to their senses. Why have we let it go for so long? Now, the right are buying up the media. Progressive??

  • Rev. Dr. Mons Teig says:

    May 6, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I am very aware of many who object to raising the “minimum wage”.  However, Thomas Piketty has shown the growing inequality between the extremely rich and the 99%.  Taxation could address a return to a more equitable range.  That would help us if there were a “maximum wage.”  The rich say they would move out of state or put holdings off shore if the country or state would raise taxes on them, but those stuck at minimum wage or the middle class don’t have those options. I believe we need to raise the question of the morality of this disparity.  These are complex issues but we need to address them with reasonable and equitable responses. 

  • Ron Vormwald says:

    May 6, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Mandatory Minimum Living Wage based on the consumer price index for each and every MSA. Single parent with one child. There are several calculators based on good info, but it needs to be tied to the CPI so it rises with inflation. This will focus the community on the high cost of whatever drives your economy be it food, housing, transportation or taxation as these component costs put increasing pressure on the employers which do not exist today. If housing in your area is too high, it drives the minimum wage to kill jobs, then the community can focus on lowering this high cost component by subsidizing housing in some fashion which makes sense to lower the minimum wage to restore full employment. Also, if we do not have a mandatory minimum wage based on the cost of living in your community, then the community will have to in some fashion subsidize the laborer, either with multiple jobs, higher crime or higher occupancy rates such as living with parents. Minnesota does not compete for jobs, especially service sector. You can’t have a McDonalds in Texas serving Minnesotans, it would be like eating frozen White Castles.

  • charlotte fisher NP says:

    May 6, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Now we need single prayer health care                 Sen John Marty’s bill

  • Jim W says:

    May 6, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Addressing the growing inequity in pay and wealth, I do not think setting an absolute maximum will work. I do think that we should address corporate taxes and set a level above which executive salaries are no longer tax deductible. This level would be based on average company salary and the size of the company. I think the level would drop over a period of time such as 20 years, which would allow the pay to gradually come in line. At the same time the issue of stock options would also have to be addressed. Today much of executive pay comes through stock options, and stock options often encourage short term thinking.

  • Conrad deFiebre says:

    May 6, 2014 at 10:53 am

    In a progressive place, the poor do not drive cars everywhere, the rich ride transit and everyone of able body walks or bikes more of the time. In Minnesota, we’ve made strides on nonmotorized transport while continuing to expand motorways, but transit progress remains stalled by parochial concerns and the lack of adequate dedicated funding.

  • Chris says:

    May 6, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Some that may not sound progressive, but are smile

    - More housing. Cities large and small try to put up barriers in the name of rent control or preservation that increase prices for everyone. All this does is protect the current land owners from competition. More development = more supply = lower prices = more affordable housing.
    - Land Value Tax.
    - Licensing: While MN can’t do much to fix our incumbent-protecting IP system, it can do something about our incumbent-protecting professional licensing system. Needing a state license to practice most professions shouldn’t be needed, and it essentially takes money from consumers and deposits that $$ into a professional’s bank account (by restricting the profession’s labor supply). This sets many prices artificially high, and more professions are resorting to state law to set burdens for others to practice a profession. This hurts the folks whose wages can’t keep up with these skyrocketing increases.
    - Stronger regulation of broadband providers: For some reason, we have a PUC and state policy that regulates telephone but does virtually nothing for high-speed internet access. With more industries relying upon high-speed internet, and providers enjoying monopolies in the markets they serve, state policy needs to encourage competition—or else our businesses and residents will be left behind.
    - Stronger Regional Government: Too many municipal borders means too much mutually-damaging competition. By thinking of ourselves as a region, we would all benefit and there wouldn’t be goodies given out to lure businesses (wasting taxpayer money and giving it to the rich) and there would be better services (since there’s more distribution of wealth and resources in a larger land area).
    - Stronger Unions.

  • MALCOLM NLN says:

    May 6, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    It seems to me that many societal problems are due to exclusion. Why is it that most all policy is made by the population of majority and very few people of color are allowed to participate? Besides, there are numerous cultural norms and values that remain unaddressed, probably because most policy makers have no people of color within their network.

    Meaning that “we” have to live with whatever policy, albeit dysfunctional, is established. Then people wonder why so many people of color don’t do well, on many fronts. I.e. education. Wheh the only educational model used is didactic, that seems to work well with the population of majority, but is totally foreign to most people of color. Why? Because most of us aren’t wired for teaching that is solely based on memory, and not learning.

    To that i say how well would one retain what they were taught, if i “told” you how to build a canoe, as versed to actually building one yourself? But then we get into if those in charge of the educational system can switch from quantitative vs. Qualitative educational models.

  • Robert Nepper says:

    May 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Within the next few weeks thousands of new graduates will be required to yield their civil rights to creative freedom over to their employers—required as a condition of employment Their employers will require that they sign a crippling “Employee Agreement” (EA), which claims virtually all of their inventions 24/7/365 for their entire careers!, but with no obligation to actually USE those claimed inventions.

    This missing obligation gives the employer awesome power to claim and then SCUTTLE the many unwanted inventions which don’t fit the employers business model. This policy is intended to force employees to focus on assigned tasks ONLY! But how does our economy expand with such restrictions on creativity?

    Hypothetically, suppose some Minnesota employee invented the first cell phone and took it to his employer for development. It is doubtful that Minnesota had any firm with the foresight, expertise and willingness to develop the cell phone, but we have hundreds of companies all set up with stifling EAs ready to KILL IT! What would its chances for development be?

    Fortunately, cell phone inventor, Marty Cooper, worked for Motorola, which had decades of mobile communications experience and moved forward aggressively to develop this estimated TRILLION-DOLLAR worldwide industry today! If a Minnesotan had invented it, we might not have that fantastic product and all of those new jobs today!
                                            Use or Return
      We have been working for years in the Minnesota legislature to salvage more of those unwanted employee inventions(and jobs) by requiring employers to simply “Use or Return” those many unwanted employee inventions. That simple, no-cost, initiative promises to supply a continuous source of new products, new businesses, new jobs and new tax revenue—all without one cent in new taxes! Unfortunately, the legislature refused to even hear our bill (SF 21)—probably because the media refuses to expose the crippling overreaching, destructive, employee agreement!

  • Cynthia Ahlgren says:

    May 7, 2014 at 10:35 am

    We need housing, oversight and treatment of the mentally ill. They are homeless, treated short-term at emergency rooms, or end up in in prison. Their families are exhausted and afraid. There seems to be no place for them. Our long winters make their plight particularly severe.

  • Janet K says:

    May 7, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    We’re falling behind in public health, with too much of health reform not focused on the best preventive health care practices.  MN Community Measures, among others, is trying to avoid a public-health cost savings approach.  The asthma optimal care measure is a good example of this.