Dayton blew 2 chances to help Minnesotans

Published 10:12 am Friday, May 18, 2012

Column: Notes From Home

Earlier this week Gov. Mark Dayton and some of his legislative allies barnstormed the state, celebrating how things went during this legislative session. No doubt he’s gloating over how he “won” the battle with Republicans about the Vikings stadium. Perhaps he’s also proud of how he stiffed the Republican majority when he vetoed bills on their list of priorities.

While many of the bills passed by Republicans this session — without any cooperation, collaboration or communication with the governor or other Democrats — were flawed, some of them also contained real solutions. With a couple of his vetoes, Dayton took steps in the wrong direction.

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For one, he vetoed business tax reform legislation. Yes, it’s appropriate for businesses to pay some percentage of their profit in taxes. Why should they be exempt from paying for all the ways that state government makes their profits possible? But the rate businesses pay should be reasonable; everybody associated with a business already pays income taxes.

If a business — big or small — invests in new facilities or equipment, or expands and hires new employees, their tax rate should be reduced. The benefits to the community justify that kind of subsidy.

It also might have helped end the session with a shared sense of success, a win-win scenario, instead of continuing the partisan bickering.

About the same time as Dayton nixed the tax reform plan, he also vetoed an education bill that would have balanced teacher seniority with demonstrated effectiveness in classrooms when districts laid off teachers to balance budgets.

Teachers with the most experience are often the most effective, but not always. There are plenty of so-called “experienced” teachers who sit at desks and pass out worksheets, who long ago gave up on “teaching and learning” in favor of paychecks and pensions.

The Republicans’ efforts at reform didn’t require schools to seek out evaluations from students and parents; it was all tied to test scores. And their attempt at reform enabled them to sidestep the ultimate cause of all of those teacher layoffs, their inability to negotiate a real solution to the whole school funding question. But there was a good idea at the heart of it.

Much earlier this year Dayton created more problems than he solved when he tried to push through a union for child-care workers.

It’s not as if the women and men who help raise children while their parents work are paid nearly enough for what they do. Given how important their task is — they are raising our children, after all — they are poorly paid, but their income is dependent on what people who have to work can afford to pay.

However, promoting a union without seeking any kind of open discussion at public hearings just doesn’t smell right. And if there’s going to be a “vote” to create a union for child-care workers, all of them need to be involved, not just the ones that the governor picks.

The union issue was a distraction. Yes, we all should be paying more attention to early childhood development because those first three years are vital when it comes to success of any kind. Unionizing the people who get paid to raise our children is not the right way to go about that.

What he could have done instead is work with businesses and the Legislature (including Republicans) to come up with ways for parents to be more involved with and responsible for their children during those first three years.

Together they could talk about ideas like job-sharing. They could work at lifting restrictions on multi-generational or extended family housing (so grandparents and aunts and uncles and parents all raise children together). And what about more subsidized housing and better public transportation so that low wage earning parents can actually work a single full-time job and also have time to raise their children? Or lower taxes for businesses with quality child-care on site, so that parents and children can eat meals together and spend break times together?

If Gov. Dayton really is interested in a stronger Minnesota, there is a better way to go about building it than just saying no to Republicans.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.