Tag Archives: Pat Garofalo

House passes marriage equality; Carver County Reps vote no

The marriage equality bill passed the Minnesota State House of Representatives today 75-59.  Four Republican Representatives voted in favor of the bill:  Jenifer Loon (Eden Prairie), Andrea Kieffer (Woodbury), Pat Garofalo (Farmington), and David FitzSimmons (Albertville), while two DFL Representatives voted against it:  Patti Fritz (Faribault) and Mary Sawatzky (Willmar).

Carver County Representatives Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), Ernie Leidiger (R-Mayer), and Cindy Pugh (R-Chanhassen) all voted no, even after FitzSimmons’s amendment to rename all references to “marriage” in Minnesota statute as “civil marriage”, thereby providing additional reassurance that religious institutions would not be impacted by approval of marriage equality.

As previously noted, voters in both Hoppe and Pugh’s districts voted against the marriage amendment last November  so they are swimming upstream in this regard.  Pugh’s vote is a distinct contrast from her district, as 33B voted against the marriage amendment by 17 points – -the third largest margin of the 21 House Republican districts that voted against the amendment.

[Picture of the voting board above courtesy of Leanne Kunze’s Twitter stream.]


Sunday liquor sales torpedoed again

In what is now seemingly a yearly tradition at the State Capitol, the effort to end Minnesota’s prohibition on Sunday liquor sales was torpedoed again by a combination of labor and liquor industry interests.  Last year’s effort failed on an overwhelming vote in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Once again, the State Legislature — by kowtowing to special interest pressure — worked against clear majorities of Minnesota citizens.  Polling has consistently shown public support for Sunday liquor sales runs over 60%.

What are some of the arguments against Sunday liquor sales?  Let’s look at them:

“If you don’t open on seventh day and your competitors do, there goes your customer base,” said Edward Reynoso, political director for Teamsters 32 Joint Council.

Well, there’s certainly something to be said for competitive pressures.  But, let’s face it, there’s more to business success than just being open seven days a week (or as long as your competitors).  If that were the case, would it be possible to have a thriving fast food restaurant chain that’s closed on Sundays?  Or would it be possible to be a successful general retailer that closed at 10 p.m. every night instead of staying open 24 hours like its main competitor?

Maryann Campo, who opened South Lyndale Liquors in Minneapolis in 1975, said the bill would raise her store’s labor costs without boosting profits.

“We don’t see any economic advantage,” Campo said.

There’s nothing in the bill that would require liquor stores to be open seven days a week.  In fact, it might make more economic sense for a liquor store to close on Mondays (as some restaurants do) to maximize profits.

But even more to the point — let’s say Campo is right.  Why, then, should liquor stores (and auto dealerships) get the benefit of these blue laws?  It would be cheaper for every business open seven days a week to only be open six days a week.  Target and Best Buy and any number of other retailers would benefit in the same way that liquor stores do.  Why not ban all commerce on Sunday, then?

And certainly, employees of other businesses could equally benefit from this line of argument:

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association has lobbied effectively against the change every year with the same argument: Its member stores want one day off a week

The train has already left the station on that one, I’m afraid.  It would be nice if everyone could convince the Legislature to dictate a work-free Sunday, but it’s just not practical — nor is it good economics.

[Rep. Pat] Garofalo opposes broader Sunday sales, which he said would increase stores’ labor costs, only to be passed on to consumers.

“It means higher liquor prices. The public doesn’t understand that,” he said.

See the above answer for a response to the raising prices question.  But here’s where things really get interesting.  Garofalo has spent significant time this session braying about how Governor Mark Dayton’s budget will drive business over Minnesota borders.  Perhaps Garofalo should be equally worried about Minnesota businesses already losing revenue to Wisconsin as he is about whether or not Moorhead gets an Applebee’s.

Even more telling here is how many Republicans (Carver County’s own Joe Hoppe and Ernie Leidiger included) forget about their free market principles on this issue.  There’s precisely no free market rationale here to defend this prohibition.  And there’s precious little to stand on when it comes to social concern, either.  If we’re going to sell liquor in bars and restaurants on Sunday, why not allow people to buy a 12-pack and take it home with them?  Isn’t that better than letting them get their buzz on and then drive home?

Jason Alvey, the owner of Four Firkins in St. Louis Park, puts it best:

“It is the year 2013, yet I pay rent 52 days a year that I’m not allowed to open my business, and I think that’s very frustrating. Let’s gain the extra tax revenue. Let’s give the people what they want. Let’s give progressive retailers like myself the ability to run our businesses how we see fit.”

It’s time to put pressure on the Legislature to get out of the way and to do the right thing.  If you’re interested in changing this law, I encourage you to contact your legislator as well as supporting organizations like Minnesota Beer Activists that are working to make sure the Legislature listens to the will of the people.

The Stretch Run: looking at education bills in the Legislature

The Minnesota State Legislature returned today from Easter break.  Legislative leaders have promised a quick to end to a session that has thus far produced very little legislation — other than a Voter ID constitutional amendment — lots of stadium talk that has gone nowhere, and more than the usual amount of partisan hijinks.

One of the policy areas, though, where there have been some substantive actions so far in this session has been in K-12 education.  Let’s take a look at some of the important legislation in education, and what the last couple of weeks of the session may mean.

Repayment of the K-12 funding shifts:  Legislation by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) would have taken an additional $430 million out of state reserves to partially payback the K-12 funding shifts enacted in the last two state budgets.  The bill was passed on largely party-line votes in both houses, then vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton.  Dayton cited the potential risk to the state budget if the economy does not meet expectations as well as the fact that the bill is not a long-term solution to repaying the shifts (there would still be about $2 billion outstanding).  Dayton favored repaying the shift by closing certain tax loopholes.  OUTLOOK:  Poor.  The two parties are a long ways off on this issue, and look content at this point to litigate the school shift as part of the campaign.

Tenure reform:  House and Senate Republicans passed bills that would end the practice of laying off teachers using the Last In, First Out (LIFO) methodology.  Instead, the bill mandates a combination of seniority and teacher evaluations.  The bill is currently in conference committee, and is expected to be re-passed by both chambers shortly.  Gov. Dayton has already announced his intent to veto, saying it would be premature to pass laws dictating requirements for layoffs based on teacher evaluation standards that are not in place yet.  OUTLOOK:  Shaky.  Again, there seems to be a difference here that will be difficult to bridge.  Most people agree about ending layoffs solely based on LIFO, but question whether this bill is the right way (or whether this is the right time).

PEIP changes:  Legislation authored by Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) would change the process for education unions to enter the Public Employees Insurance Program  (PEIP).  Currently, if a majority of eligible union members approve, the union can enter PEIP.  Under the legislation, additional approval by the employer (in this case, the school district) would be required as well.  Versions of the bill have been passed in both houses, and are currently in conference committee.  Re-passage by both houses is expected before the end of the session.  Additional legislation that would prevent new groups from entering PEIP for three years is also in conference committee.  OUTLOOK:  Hazy.  Hoppe’s bill passed on a party-line basis, while the second bill had slightly broader support.  Given his positions on other bills, it seems unlikely Gov. Dayton would sign Hoppe’s bill.

Omnibus education bill:  A number of policy reforms are included in the omnibus education bill.  Among them are early graduation scholarships, which would reward students who graduate from high school early by helping to fund their post-secondary options.  The Republican bills would fund said scholarships by taking the money from their school district.  Also included is the call for a state report card on each school, prohibitions on political activities by school employees on public property, an extension on the ability for school districts to transfer dollars between funds, and allowing districts to use general fund dollars on all-day kindergarten programs.  OUTLOOK:  Possible.  The funding of the early graduation scholarship could be problematic, but it is an issue that ought to be able to be worked out if the two sides are truly serious about getting a bill passed.

When “local control” becomes a meaningless catch phrase

We support the belief that parents are responsible for their children’s education and that parents, teachers and local school boards can make the best decisions about our children’s education. – Rep. Duane Quam

The House Education Finance committee will hear testimony on H.F. 1858 tomorrow.  This bill would only allow local school districts to hold operating levy referendums in even-numbered years.  Currently, districts have the ability to choose whether to hold such referendums in odd- or even-numbered years.

Representative Garofalo will work to keep schools under the control of local parents and teachers. – Rep. Pat Garofalo campaign website

This bill would stomp all over the local control that Republicans — and specifically, a number of the bill’s authors — claim they want for their local districts.  And it’s poor policy on the merits, as well.  The state typically makes its major budget decisions in the odd-numbered years.  (That’s why we had our big state budget blowout last year, in 2011.)  This law would force districts to wait 18 months after those decisions are made before they can seek additional funding from voters.  This is nothing more than an attempt to force reduced budgets on to public schools.  It’s time for legislators to do their jobs when it comes to providing consistent funding for K-12 education instead of tying the hands of local officials who get to clean up the mess made in St. Paul.  Remember, it’s these same legislators who have balanced the budget in the last two cycles by sucking $2 billion out of our children’s education.

The more local control over your tax dollars, the more wisely the money will be spent. – Rep. Andrea Kieffer

Garofalo, the chair of the Education Finance committee, has accused school boards of using the odd-year referendums to “fleece” taxpayers. Garofalo should have more faith in voters.  If there’s one thing voters have proven in recent years — at all levels of government — it’s that they’re willing to vote out incumbents who they think aren’t doing the job.  The fact that Garofalo finds himself in the majority in the State House is testament to that fact.  Here in Eastern Carver County, voters replaced  four of the seven seats on the District 112 School Board in 2010 and voted down the technology referendum request in 2011.

Sadly, this bill is not the only bill that has headed down this road during the legislative session.  For instance, last year they pushed H.F. 381, which would have mandated a pay freeze across all districts in the state.

It’s time for the Legislature to start walking their talk.  “Local control” shouldn’t be a catch phrase — it should actually mean something.  Let school boards do their jobs and the voters will hold them accountable.  We don’t need this unnecessary meddling from the state.

3 reasons to be wary of GOP attacks on local school boards

In recent days, we’ve seen Minnesota Republicans ramp up rhetoric against school boards who have put levy referendums on the ballot this November.  It’s expected that there will be over 130 such ballot questions this November, from all corners of the state.  This would be the largest number of school levy referendums in a single year in state history.

Unhappy with what such a spate of referendums would imply about state levels of funding for education, several of them have started to spout off.  For instance, Rep. Pat Garofalo, the chair of the House Education Finance Committee said “Unfortunately, we have some school boards that are using people’s generosity to engage in the fleecing of taxpayers, and that’s just not acceptable.”  He’s threatening — along with other members of the House Republican caucus — to publicly attack particular referendums they think are out-of-bounds.  Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Drazkowski recently urged voters in his district to oppose referendum votes in the Lewiston-Altura and St. Charles districts.

Garofalo and Drazkowski both cite changes in the recently-passed budget as making such referendums unnecessary — specifically a $50 increase in the per-pupil formula in each of the next two years and one-time increases in compensatory funds.  While I’m not here to pass judgment on any of the merits of a specific district’s referendum, what is clear is that such attacks by Republican politicians on locally-elected school boards are hypocritical on many levels.

First off, locally-elected school boards don’t have the variety of accounting tricks and gimmicks at their disposal the same way Republican politicians like Garofalo and Drazkowski do.  They don’t have the ability to shift when they pay expenses at their whim like the politicians in St. Paul have done each of the last two sessions.  And despite the happy talk from Garofalo and Drazkowski, the implementation of the additional school shift will do far more damage to school district finances than can be recouped through the changes to the funding formulas.  Here in Carver County, the Eastern Carver County School District will see a net loss in funding of $3.6 million over the next two years because of the Republican budget.  Total state borrowing from public schools now totals over $2 billion.

Second, Legislative Republicans who chafe under federal mandates are now passing that same treatment down to local officials.  Garofalo trumpets the need for local control of schools, but now threatens to stick his nose into the business of school districts outside of his home in Farmington.  Since when does he know better than the folks in, say, Thief River Falls about their local needs?  Drazkowski, meanwhile, has supported legislation that would stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Minnesota and a constitutional amendment that would allow state nullification of federal statutes.  Drazkowski and Carver County’s own Ernie Leidiger backed a bill that would have mandated a pay freeze on teachers.  Funny — Garofalo, Drazkowski, and Leidiger all bleat about their support for “local control” of schools on their websites.

Finally, the notion offered by Garofalo that most of these districts are looking for additional funds is just flat-out not factual.  If you look at the list complied by the Minnesota School Boards Association, most of the levy questions are actually renewals of existing levies, which would maintain existing tax levels, not increase them.

[NOTE:  I have not taken a position on the District 112 technology referendum as of yet and will not until I see additional information on specifically how the levy dollars are intended to be used.]

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