Senate Republicans propose reforms: change school rules, re-aim transit money, don’t raise gas tax, diversify MNsure board

SRC_SolveAn open letter to Gov. Mark Dayton from Minnesota Senate Republicans:
Celebrating the New Year is traditionally a time for reflection and resolution. Reflecting on the last legislative session and the results of the election, we are resolved to do all we can to move our state forward. We look forward to working with you and the new House majority to enact a responsible state budget, provide tax relief to Minnesota families and reform our education and healthcare delivery systems.
We recognize that the $1 billion budget “surplus” is no cause for celebration. It simply means that even though you passed the largest budget in state history and adopted the largest tax increase in state history, you are planning to collect and spend an additional $1 billion of the peoples’ money. We are pledged to work with the House to adopt a budget that reduces taxes and strengthens our position for the future.
Tax reform has long been a goal of Republicans. Aligning our income tax structure with federal tax provisions would be a good first step. If the IRS offers a tax break, the least we can do is let Minnesota taxpayers enjoy the same benefit on April 15.
Senate Republicans will also propose other reforms aimed at convincing more Minnesotans to stay in our state and welcome some back who have already left. Exempting Social Security income from state taxes would send a message to our seniors that we want them to stay in Minnesota. Exempting military pensions from state taxes would say “welcome back” to Minnesota veterans.
Those who have made the sacrifice to serve our country should not have to make economic sacrifices to live in Minnesota. In addition to long needed tax reform, there are spending reforms we will join with the House majority to enact.
There is broad agreement that our state’s road system needs attention. Unfortunately, you and your fellow Democrats are once again using the traditional DFL solution: raise taxes and increase spending on wasteful projects like light rail. There is no reason to raise the gas tax in the 2015 session to improve our transportation system, and Republicans in the Senate will stand strongly opposed.
We should reprioritize the billions we already spend in transportation and focus on what Minnesotans want: better roads, shorter commutes and more time with their families.
In education, the recent turmoil in Minneapolis should remind us of the maxim, “more money and good intentions are not enough.” We know the quality of the teacher in the classroom is very important — it’s time to repeal the antiquated hiring and firing process for teachers and let school boards keep the best teachers in their classrooms.
Local boards have been elected to manage their schools, let’s give them the tools to do so effectively.
Republicans will also be ready to consider bolder ideas and reforms such as breaking up our large urban school districts into smaller and more nimble organizations, able to better focus on solving our persistent achievement gap. Empowering parents and local school boards through public-employee-union rules reform and expanded school choice options are tools other states are using effectively. Every year there is talk about closing the achievement gap. But the policy of the DFL is always the same: increase spending. Every year we get the same results: flat or declining achievement. It borders on criminal to tell half the parents in Minneapolis we’ve improved education by providing more expensive schools from which their children will not graduate.
Republicans never loved the idea of making government the purveyor of health insurance. But we recognize that, for now, we have to live with a federal law that was passed in a partisan manner and has never been supported by the majority of our citizens.
We have to get serious in 2015 about structural changes to MNsure. You and other Democrats love to talk about bi-partisan government. The test of your commitment to cooperation will be the kinds of reforms to the partisan-enacted MNsure structure you will accept.
Republicans will support changing the makeup of the MNsure Board to give them more expertise in insurance and information technology. Will you? We also need a frank discussion of the long-term solvency of this program. If Minnesota taxpayers have to continue underwriting MNsure from the state budget, it may be time to question again the hasty commitment you made to build a state-based exchange.
Gov. Dayton, the voters in the last election made it clear they did not want single-party DFL governance. With the election of a new Republican House majority we have the opportunity to act together with boldness, creativity and a willingness to solve problems. We can’t follow the same path you and the DFL Legislature led us on the past two years. The people of our state voted for change. Let’s not disappoint them.

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