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What is the single most important problem facing Minnesota? A poll conducted by the Humphrey Institute and Minnesota Public Radio recently asked Minnesotans that question, and I found it to contain some interesting results.
According to the poll, 33% of Minnesotans pointed to the economy and jobs; 18% said health care; 15% chose taxes; and 12% selected education.
I’m not surprised at what respondents feel is the most important problem, but I am surprised at how the Legislature is attempting to address these issues, and felt the public might be interested as well.
In the area of the economy, the Legislature has yet to finalize a budget agreement with the Governor. He said this is crucial as the state faces a $935 million budget deficit, and it must be eliminated in the coming weeks.
As for jobs, the House has responded by approving legislation that would eliminate the Job Opportunity Building Zones (JOBZ) program, which offers incentives to businesses that choose to expand or relocate in rural Minnesota. Wisconsin and Iowa couldn’t be happier with this news.
The House has also passed a health and human services finance plan that’s designed to give more of our “poor” families access to government-operated health insurance. But under the legislation, “poor” means 400% greater than the state definition of poverty, meaning a family of four making less than $82,000 a year would qualify for Minnesota Care.
This expansion of health care would be paid for using funds from the state’s Health Care Access Fund, which currently has a nearly $300 million surplus. But according to the Department of Human Services, if this bill passes and more people take advantage of the program, this fund would be bankrupt by the year 2013.
As for taxes, let’s analyze the Taxes bill approved by the House that’s designed to provide property tax relief. In order to provide assistance to the lowest income homeowners, the Property Tax Refund program is eliminated under this plan, as is the itemizing of your property tax deduction on your state income taxes. And, according to the Department of Revenue, 53 percent of homeowners will actually see a property tax increase under the proposal.
In the area of K-12 education, school interests are being largely ignored, particularly in Greater Minnesota. The funding disparity between Minneapolis and southern Minnesota is so great it’s almost embarrassing. Where Minneapolis receives $13,000 per student in state funding, our area receives $9,000 per student or less. A student is a student, and all should be treated equally in the eyes of Minnesota. Yet our education bill last year only widened the gap between Minneapolis Schools and the rest of the state. With more money being poured in to our inner cities, its no wonder our local schools continue their quest for more equitable funding.
So, when it comes to the most important problems facing Minnesota, do you feel the Legislature is making good progress, or is it making things worse for folks in rural Minnesota?
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