Guest column: Wise reform is needed in government

Published 8:44 pm Friday, October 28, 2022

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Guest column by Peggy Bennett

It has been a real honor and joy to be your legislator over the last few years. One of my favorite parts of this job has been to take on the challenges of solving problems.

Peggy Bennett

I was a problem solver when helping struggling students in my classroom, and I’ve now carried that problem solving tenacity to the Legislature. That’s why, when I entered office, I made it my goal to make sure we fixed the huge nursing home funding deficit our state was experiencing. During my first year in office, I was part of a successful legislative effort that made significant reforms in how the state reimburses senior care facilities. Those reforms helped to boost employee pay and keep nursing home doors open. 

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Since then, I have developed solid working relationships with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, which have enabled me to continue my problem-solving efforts, such as bringing in more state dollars for roads and bridges without raising taxes, making it possible for foster kids to be a part of their siblings’ lives, and most recently working to get my evidence-based government bill passed. This legislation will reform tax dollar funding of education grant programs to make sure that the programs we support are working — and stop funding those that don’t work.

Speaking of government reform… I want to bring that “if it doesn’t work stop doing it” mentality to all of government.  That includes the omnibus bills I’ve mentioned before — those giant bills that poison the ability of legislators to work together on the things they can agree upon.  

I have offered omnibus bill reform legislation multiple times in the past and will continue to push on this issue. There is more than one way to solve this problem. I have been collaborating over the interim with fellow like-minded legislators to find new ways to reform this process. I won’t give up until it’s done! 

We have some critical issues to tackle in our state right now, with crime, the economy, and education among the top. Current government policy is clearly not working. I want to be a part of constructing the wise reform that’s needed. 

Sadly, Minnesota is now one of the top crime states in the nation. This crime problem is starting to bleed out into our beautiful rural communities as well. Area law enforcement tells me that theft is a big problem locally, including a rise in catalytic converter theft. Criminals have now brought fentanyl to our local communities. Tragically, Albert Lea has lost two young people over the last few months to fentanyl overdose deaths.

Supporting law enforcement and our police officers is extremely important to me. It’s key to addressing this lawlessness. This includes properly funded police departments, meaningful law enforcement training, holding criminals accountable for bad behavior and expanding mental health support in communities.  

The current high-inflationary economy is destroying family budgets and stretching local businesses to the breaking point. Smart tax relief is necessary so people can keep more money in their pockets — and let’s start with eliminating Minnesota’s tax on Social Security. Next, let’s set a goal for how much we want to lower Minnesota’s income tax brackets and then phase that reduction in over a few years. This will protect our state from the typical wild swings between surplus and deficit.  

Education is near and dear to my heart as a former teacher. Minnesota test scores have been on a downward trend for years. It breaks my heart that now only half of our students are proficient in reading and math — and this is significantly worse for students of color.  

The fix is about more than just putting more money into education — it’s about smart spending. We can’t just keep throwing money at things that are not working. The system needs reform.

Some of my plans: Return the focus of education to equipping students with the basics like reading, writing, math and basic science and history –– not on pushing controversial political propaganda into classrooms; reduce paperwork and mandates for teachers and schools so teachers have more time to teach; encourage strong partnership bonds between parents and teachers; and innovate and diversify educational opportunity to better meet student and family needs — including more educational alternatives for students and more local control for public schools to innovate and meet student needs.  

When I meet with people, we may not always end up agreeing on everything, but it’s important to me that they walk away knowing that I’m willing to listen, I treated them respectfully and that I care — because I do!

I sure would appreciate your vote this election. Thank you!

Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is running for the newly formed District 23A seat.