Education a top issue in race for governor
The Minnesota governor's race apparently hinges on two issues -- education and health care. Major-party candidates Tim Pawlenty, Mike Hatch and Peter Hutchinson have spent lots of time discussing those issues. However, they don't always lay out s...
The Minnesota governor's race apparently hinges on two issues -- education and health care.
Major-party candidates Tim Pawlenty, Mike Hatch and Peter Hutchinson have spent lots of time discussing those issues.
However, they don't always lay out specifics. When Republican Gov. Pawlenty and Democratic Attorney General Hatch sat next to each other talking to Forum Communications journalists recently, they avoided talking directly about the other's education proposals.
"Funding for schools has gone up well into double digits on my watch," Pawlenty said. And, he added, it will continue to rise as the state budget situation improves.
Hatch joined Pawlenty in saying he did not want higher taxes, but added: "It is more about who pays."
Hatch does not like recent increases in property taxes to fund schools. Relying on property taxes means schools with lots of high-value property can do a better job financing education than poor districts, he said.
Hutchinson, the Independence Party candidate, chimed in with his common attack on the two big parties. He said the problem with school funding today is that policymakers have ignored their pledge for the state to pay for most education. "It was not a promise kept."
Hatch has especially talked about college education, saying Pawlenty budgets led to steep tuition increases. He said he would find $300 million for public colleges and universities by reducing a loophole that allows some state corporations to avoid paying income taxes on profits they make in other countries.
Pawlenty emphasizes making public schools more efficient and more accountable. He launched a program that is beginning to pay teachers in some districts based mostly on performance instead of seniority.
The incumbent said he wants to put more emphasis on reforming high schools, but has not released a specific plan.
Pawlenty also is resurrecting a failed 2006 legislative proposal to require that at least 70 percent of public school funding be spent in classrooms. Hatch countered that most districts already are near that figure, and some small, rural districts have so many overhead costs that bumping classroom spending up to 70 percent is impossible.
Talking about education makes sense in light of a recent survey by the University of Minnesota's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, which found education and health care to be by far the two most important governor's race issues.
"On the two issues that most concern Minnesotans, Hatch holds a commanding advantage over Pawlenty," the center's Larry Jacobs wrote.
For instance, on health care, 57 percent of Minnesotans feel Hatch would do a better job.
"Even among Minnesotans who plan to vote for the governor, 14 percent concede that the attorney general will do a better job on health care," Jacobs said about his poll.
Hutchinson frequently tells audiences that making health care more affordable is the country's biggest need.
He said he would start with a plan to save the government 20 percent by requiring all health-care providers dealing with the state to use standard forms and administrative procedures. He said he also would find ways to reduce treatment that is not needed.
Besides making the system more bureaucratically efficient, Hutchinson called for making sure every Minnesotan has basic health-care coverage. Those with money would pay their own way; poorer Minnesotans could count on the state's MinnesotaCare program to provide insurance.
His plan to cover everyone would cost the state $550 million.
Hutchinson has criticized Hatch and Pawlenty for not giving the audience specifics about their health-care plans.
As attorney general, Hatch has taken action against several health-care insurers for things like the pay and perks they give executives.
The attorney general called for the state to negotiate with drug makers to lower prices on government-purchased medicine, nearly 40 percent of prescription drugs sold in the state.
Pawlenty listed several things he has done in four years to improve Minnesota health care. Atop the list was his program allowing Minnesotans to import prescription drugs from Canada.
Pawlenty also pointed to programs making it easier to save for health needs, and to implementing a plan that contains costs and improves health care for state employees.