Thursday, September 14, 2006

HD 15A debate 

These are my notes from the Debate Minnesota debate between District 15A candidates Steve Gottwalt (SG) and Diana Murphy-Podawiltz (DMP) from which I've just returned. I've retained the raw notes for others to use (a few comments interspersed in italics after arriving home.) I arrived a little late and missed some of Gottwalt's opening remarks. Those being mostly uninformative, I've cut to the questions themselves. These first two questions were asked by a moderator, whose questions struck me as quite slanted towards a more liberal view, but since he had the floor for only 30 minutes of the debate, I didn't find him that problematic, and neither did the candidates.

7:15 -- first question is a loaded question about transportation. DMP -- too many cars, 4-car garages, high cost of gas. So supports Northstar. Fully funding of transportation sales tax. Make sure the money goes to roads. SG -- "transportation candidate", lists experiences. Supports a yes vote for MVST. Need to pass -- but no to the gas tax. Wants toll roads explored. 1/5 of the need, so how would you fill "the need"? ($1.5 bn) SG -- no support for gas tax. Need to bond, it's a capital infrastructure investment. DMP -- governor's veto was a mistake. Bonding has its limits, will not use. Need to raise license tab fees, raise taxes on gas "there's a formula", there's an equitabitlity of taxes "rich are not paying their fair share." Moderator switches to tax pledge. SG -- fees, but taxes on the wealthy would be detrimental to job creation and economic development. OK with gas taxes and license tabs. Has there ever been an economy that grew after taxes were raised? DMP -- I'm not suggesting taxes are a bad thing.

7:25 education. What to do with the gap in education? SG -- need a stable funding source, state was unreliable in the last recession, so local funding is more responsible and responsive. Not wrong to ask for accountability with additional funding. DMP -- Legislatures have asked school districts to do more with less, raised expectations and doesn't allow them to fund. Immediate step raise spending $.17 per dollar on education -- this is the 1990 level, now down to $.155. Roll back tax cuts. Moderator asks about difference in which side pays how much. DMP -- can't ask local taxpayers to pay the whole increase. SG -- not all on local taxpayers, but the state's proposal to fund wholly was unwise. 70% rule SG not a slap on the administration. DMP -- most schools are there (not true -- it's about 1/4 of districts); schools are doing the best they can with what they've got. College education tuition DMP too high, students in debt, we need more students in school. SG -- we're not doing too bad, people get through, but the costs are rising and we need to know why, what are we getting for our dollars?

7:40 (Larry Schumacher asking question unknown to candidates) -- what can address low wages in St. Cloud? SG -- increase job skills, state is not aggresive enough in providing job leads (DTED used to generate more leads) but JOBZ is helping. Willing to look at a minimum wage increase, but we have to be sure we're providing solid job opportunities for them. DMP -- we have both low and highpaying jobs that are very different.20% jobs in Cities are highpaying, 10% in STC; 25% lower cost of living in STC. ???? We don't know for sure. Job transportability and skill development. State funded-programs should pay prevailing wages. DMP -- requirements from JOBZ and TIF, she supports. We also need to be doing education of workers. SG -- promise from SCSU to taking our higher ed students, using the business colleges to transfer information to the community. SCSU is not doing enough. DMP -- man she drifts a lot! DMP -- we're losing students from SCSU out of St. Cloud. (So's everyone else.)

7:52 -- Now LS asks questions from audience. Health care separating from businesses. DMP -- we need to cover kids. Favors single-payer, thinks it would be cheaper. SG -- employer based health insurance has done well, government fills gaps. Market-based solutions. We have the highest share of our population covered by health insurance (true). DMP -- the free market has not done a good job with health care. While we have a good system, more and more of us are not covered. Is it acceptable that 68,000 children aren't covered? SG -- cites several statistics, says we should build on success.

Paying for prescriptions drugs -- SG -- health care coverage. The real cost includes co-pays. Affordability provided by global marketplace. DMP -- not affordable, must control pharmaceutical firms, need state insurance.

Statewide smoking ban -- DMP yes. Proven that second-hand smoke has negative effects. SG -- agrees. It's a public health issue, should be a state law. Restaurants fine, but would "be more careful" on pour bars.

How should K-12 formula be fixed? DMP -- Needs to be fixed for special ed needs. SG -- it's too complex, nobody can explain it. Unfunded mandates from feds and states are a huge issue.

Gay rights -- DMP -- supporter. They are civil, human rights. Upholding their rights along with everybody elses's. SG -- I support rights for everyone too. But if we're talking about special rights, we might have a disagreement. Followup on marriage amendment. SG -- yes, I will vote to move the amendment to the ballot. Dean Johnson wants to protect us from ourselves. MN voters are being blocked from expressing their views. What's wrong with letting people vote? DMP -- not a good amendment. Constitution should be reserved for very important things (like MVST??) "I believe in civil unions." (I got confused, but three young ladies cheered her, making me think they thought she was supporting gay marriage.)

Can you cite an economy that grew after raising taxes? SG "No." We need to create an environment for businesses to grow jobs, business taxes are too high. DMP -- when we raise taxes we invest in our future, we our elevating the level of our lives. Schumacher -- low taxes in the south, those countries don't grow. SG -- investment has to be in right places. (Southern states are rather corrupt.) Reinvestment is a euphemism for spend. LS for DMP -- how far do we go? DMP -- we're not as high as we once were. We're going backwards. We're cutting, cutting cutting in everything. Proud of our high-tax heritage.

SG -- Simply increasing spending doesn't increase productivity or excellence. She thinks you raise taxes to get results, I believe in making people accountable. DMP -- can't cut anywhere.

Concluding comments: Gottwalt thought after the debate that he had shown a strong contrast between himself and Murphy-Podawiltz. I have only known Gottwalt in passing until a few months ago and not followed his time on the St. Cloud city council. He is much more a moderate than I thought before, particularly on fiscal issues. While even a moderate stands out against the backdrop of DMP, Steve is nonetheless one to argue for smart, careful fee or tax increases. I was the one who wrote the "name a place that grew after raising taxes" question, and he correctly said "none." But in other places as you see in my notes, he was in favor of higher auto license fees, for MVST -- he and I have sparred on Northstar in the past, as he has a preference for spending programs for transportation. He's much more positively disposed to JOBZ and other business tax incentive programs than I would be.

In some sense, the fact that the Debate Minnesota focused 40% of the debate on that and education played well for him; he's much better versed on transportation, and he handles education questions well by focusing on worker training.

Murphy-Podawiltz is not as polished as Gottwalt, and seemed sometimes to lose train of thought and asked for questions to be repeated. There is little doubt that she believes we need to raise taxes, and she was unapologetic about it. When I gave that question she said she could not cite any state or country that improved after raising taxes but kept retreating to the "reinvestment" and "we've just been cutting, cutting cutting" lines. I cannot believe this will play very well even in the more DFL quarters of the district.

If I was her, I'd probably stay away from the economic debates; maybe she might find a majority in highlighting herself as a Catholic who believes in gay marriage if there are many socially liberal voters in the district (though I even had trouble following her on that question). But her views on economic issues mostly came across as vague and muddy, and where she was clear she was clearly for higher taxes. It didn't work for Mondale in 1984, and it probably won't work here.