The record of incumbent State Senator Julianne Ortman merits discussion — certainly a more intelligent discussion than what occurred in her primary election race versus Bruce Schwichtenberg. Ortman, as Deputy Majority Leader and Tax Committee Chair, gives Carver County a prominent voice in the Legislature. She is a well-informed legislator and an eloquent advocate for her positions. The real question, though, is how she uses that voice, and to what ends.
I have long advocated on this blog for fundamental reform of state taxes — specifically taking a hard look at our personal and corporate income tax code that is littered with special credits and deductions (known as tax expenditures) that make the tax code complicated and often unfair. This used to be an issue that Sen. Ortman talked about frequently before the Republicans took the majority in 2010. She floated it once early in 2011 — and after that point, Michael Brodkorb began shutting down her ruminations on that topic. From that point forward, Sen. Ortman has spouted the same hard-line stance as the rest of her caucus, which may explain in part why she was rewarded with the promotion to Deputy Majority Leader following the Amy Koch scandal.
In her campaign this year, Ortman has talked about reforming sales and property taxes. Unfortunately, her proposals would only enhance the ongoing regressivity in state and local taxes in Minnesota that has existed since the Ventura tax cuts of the late -1990s. Some of the individual components she proposes — such as broadening the base of the sales tax and lowering the rate, for instance — have merit.
Yet, without looking at all three legs of the state’s taxation “stool” we can’t have tax reform that is fair and will provide benefits to all Minnesotans. Why? Because broadening the sales tax base — while beneficial to the state by making revenues more predictable — will tend to hit lower-income earners harder than higher-income earners. You need to find a way to offset that increased burden on lower-income folks, and the income tax is likely the best vehicle to do so.
Gov. Dayton has promised a significant tax reform package, and his Revenue Commissioner, Myron Frans is well-respected on both sides of the aisle. If returned to the State Senate, what role would Sen. Ortman play? Is she ready to rediscover her pragmatic tax reformer past, or will she continue to demonstrate a less flexible approach to placate her extremely conservative caucus?
Ortman’s increased partisanship can also be seen in her rejection of the appointment of former State Sen. Ellen Anderson to the Public Utilities Commission this year. Certainly, if Sen. Anderson is too partisan to hold such a position, then logic would dictate that Sen. Ortman would fail her own test for suitability to similar appointed positions. That’s not a standard that we want to be setting for future Governors and their appointments.
Ortman has a history of promoting legal reforms that work against the interest of ordinary Minnesotans. This, too, is a trend which has gone the wrong direction during the last two years. Another example of Ortman turning her back on middle-class Minnesotans? Her flip-flop on the renters tax credit, which had the effective impact of raising the tax bills of thousands of renters across the state.
Ortman’s frequent support for amending the State Constitution is also a concern. Ortman voted in favor of the two Amendments on the ballot this fall, and proposed a third that didn’t receive legislative approval. It’s this third Amendment that is of particular concern since Ortman was the chief author of the bill (carried in the House by Chaska State Rep. Joe Hoppe). This amendment would tie the hands of the State Legislature by putting limits on how much the Legislature can spend in a particular biennium. Using the Constitution to manage the State Budget is exceedingly poor policy — one need only look at the mess California is in to see that. The answer to our budget problems is as simple as voting for legislators who can get the job done the right way.
Which brings us to Ortman’s opponent, Jim Weygand. Weygand has a long history of public service, dating back to the late 1970s in his former home of Rochester. Weygand spent a decade as the mayor of Carver, leading the city through an era of rapid growth that continues today. He’s a member of the Carver County Library Board, the Board of The Community Foundation of Carver County, the Beacon Council, and Carver’s Park and Recreation Board.
Weygand is a practical problem-solver. He’s a Democrat, but he’s not afraid to buck the party line when it’s required. You don’t get elected to office for a decade in Carver County if you’re ideologically indistinguishable from an Uptown Minneapolis liberal, after all. Anyone who has worked with him or talked to him knows that he’s a guy who tries to bring people together to keep things moving forward.
One of the real strengths Jim brings to the table is his understanding of and support for infrastructure development — both statewide and here in Carver County. As a rapidly growing area, one of the things that holds back growth and development is resource constraints on infrastructure. We see it and experience it everyday on our drives to work and school. Even with the addition of new US-212 from Eden Prairie to Chaska, and even with work on MN-5 from Chaska to Victoria, there is still much to be done to make sure that Carver County has the right transportation connections to the rest of our State. We are incredibly underfunded just in roads and bridges over the next 20 years in this State.
Unfortunately, Sen. Ortman has taken the notion of increasing taxes to pay for this backlog off the table. In fact, Ortman voted against this year’s bonding bill, which contained funding for a number of statewide transportation projects. Legislative Republicans have failed to articulate any long-term strategy to address this growing crisis that threatens our state’s economic growth. Weygand will work to make sure that we get the robust transportation system our state needs to remain competitive economically.
Education is another critical component of the Weygand platform. Both parties in this State bear responsibility for the dreadful practice of shifting funds away from our K-12 schools. What we need from both parties in St. Paul is a sustained, predictable plan to pay back that shift. After all, it ‘s hardly fair to blame schools for financial mismanagement when St. Paul is failing to meet their commitments every budget cycle. Weygand is the only candidate in this race that promises that as a priority, while Republicans continue to rely on one-time monies and vague promises to make our schools whole.
It’s time to stop the partisan bickering, Carver County. It’s time to move Minnesota forward again. Jim Weygand is the right candidate to do that. Please vote for him on November 6.