Minnesota House District 28B Candidate, Ken Tschumper
Tuesday, October 30, 2012 7:55 AM
Editor's note: Running for Minnesota House of Representatives District 28B (formerly 31B before redistricting) are incumbent Greg Davids (R-Preston) and challenger Ken Tschumper (D-L a Crescent).
The candidates were asked the following questions, and they have submitted their responses.
1. Top priority: If elected, what is your top priority for the 2013 Legislature? Why are you running for office?
Tschumper: I had the opportunity to represent Houston and Fillmore counties in the Legislature in 2007-2008. We made government work for the middle class.
We balanced the budget honestly, ended the session on time and didn't have a government shut down. We passed a $6.6 billion Transportation funding bill that resulted in tremendous improvements in local roads. We passed the "Freedom to Breathe Act" which prohibits smoking in public places. In addition I was the chief author of the Disaster Assistance bill that aided the residents of southeastern Minnesota after the August 2007 flood.
I feel I can represent this district much better than it currently is. If elected again, I will focus on issues that are important to middle class Minnesotans. My top priority is to repeal the Greg Davids Property Tax Increase! The Republican Majority raised property taxes $1.3 billion. This is hurting local government, homeowners and farmers. Instead we need to increase state funding to our cities, counties and school districts.
We need to make our tax system fairer. High income Minnesotans are not paying their fair share of the tax burden. I support Gov. Dayton's proposal to raise taxes on the highest income Minnesotans.
2. Budget: Minnesota faces a long-term structural imbalance in its budget. What are your guiding principles for addressing continuing shortfalls? Do you favor spending cuts only, tax increases only, or a combination? Do you support expansion of the state sales tax to such items as food and clothing? If you support tax increases, be specific in which taxes you would increase.
Tschumper: Greg Davids and the Republicans have been misleading the public. They did not balance the budget honestly last year. They borrowed from our schools and robbed the tobacco settlement fund. These are accounting gimmicks and bad financial practices.
They balanced the budget on paper but they created deficits in the lives of real people. They cut vital services like the programs in Fillmore and Houston counties to help women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. The next Legislature will face a $4-5 billion deficit when the February budget projection comes out. About $2.4 billion is money we need to pay back to our schools.
We need to reverse the reliance on property taxes to balance the budget and to fund our schools. Gov. Dayton has proposed to make our tax system fairer with a modest increase in taxes on higher income Minnesotans. I support the Governor on this. I do not support expansion of the sales tax to items such as food and clothing. I would like to see us reduce or eliminate the statewide business property tax but only if we increase the corporate income tax to make up the revenue loss.
3. Education, K-12: Minnesota has one of the widest achievement gaps between white and minority students. How do you propose correcting this problem? Do you support legislation that would require districts to consider performance as well as seniority when deciding teacher layoffs?
Tschumper: Minnesota has for decades had one of the very best K-12 school systems in the country. Today there is a lot of discussion about evaluating teachers based on student test scores. We definitely need to reduce the achievement gap. There are several things we need to do to keep moving ahead.
First we need to stop blaming and criticizing teachers for everything. Being a good teacher today is hard work and can be very difficult. I think there is too much emphasis put on high stakes testing. The best thing we can do to improve teacher performance and to raise test scores is to pay teachers more. But to pay teachers more the state must provide more funding to our local school districts. There are lots of other issues that contribute to lower achievement by minorities, like poverty that also need to be addressed.
4. Education, higher ed: Many employers are facing a continuing shortage of qualified workers for the available jobs. How should the state address this workforce skills gap? What must be done to assure that our higher ed system is preparing workers for the available jobs in today's economy?
Tschumper: The biggest issue in higher education is the cost of tuition. The average student gradates from a university or college with a $29,000 debt. The cost of going to college is pricing a lot of young people out of their future.
We need to make college more affordable. In addition, the state and the federal government need to put more money into job training and technical schools so that we can prepare students for the high tech manufacturing jobs of the future.
5. Health care: Minnesota is taking steps to create a state-specific health insurance exchange, following the U.S. Supreme Court's affirmation of the Affordable Care Act. Should Minnesota create its own exchange or should it take no action to create an exchange?
Tschumper: I am a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, also know as Obamacare. While it is not perfect and will need addition improvements, it is a huge step forward in terms of providing universal care in this country and in terms of improving healthcare outcomes. Obamacare mandates that every state set up a health insurance exchange. Gov. Dayton's administration is well along in that process. The exchange will play a big role in lowering the cost of health care for small businesses and for individuals like farmers that purchase their own health insurance. Insurance companies will be required to provide similar insurance plans so that consumers can easily make comparisons in terms of prices and benefits. All of this will occur online.
Some parts of Obamacare have already taken affect such as eliminating the exclusion for pre-existing conditions and allowing students to remain on their parent's insurance until age 26.
6. Transportation: Is Minnesota adequately addressing its transportation needs - roads and transit? If more money is needed, what sources of revenue should be raised for what specific programs?
Tschumper: In 2008, when I was in the Legislature, we passed a much-needed $6.6 billion Transportation bill, the first one in 20 years. Great strides have been made in improving the roads and bridges of all types in our part of the state because of that. That legislation also included a big increase in funding for transit in the Metro area paid for by an increase in the Metro sales tax.
Improving our Transportation infrastructure is expensive but it is absolutely necessary for our state's economy to have a first class transportation system. The gas tax is the main source of funding for roads and bridges. Because cars are becoming more fuel efficient and using less gasoline overall, revenue from the gas tax is flat or declining. We should increase the gas tax 1-2 cents every five or so years so that we have adequate funding.
7. Energy: What sources of energy do you support to meet the state's base-load energy needs? Is Minnesota doing enough to diversify its energy generation portfolio?
Tschumper: Because of legislation we passed in 2008 when I was in the Legislature, Minnesota is doing a lot to develop alternative energy sources. We passed a renewable energy standard that mandates large amounts of renewable energy development from wind and other sources over the next decade, which is well underway. We have strong mandated use of biofuels. We have very strong mandated energy conservation measures, such as in new building codes that will gradually reduce overall energy consumption.
I feel strongly that the big area for new alternative energy development should be solar, specifically photovoltaic- electricity from the sun. The great thing about solar energy is that it is produced during the day when we need it the most, and more is produced in the summer when demand is the highest because of air conditioning. Solar is adaptable to so many different locations and situations and it just connects to our existing electrical grid. Over the next ten years we could add millions of solar collectors here in Minnesota, both on roofs in rural and urban settings and as big and small "solar farms." In addition installing all of these solar panels will create lots of jobs.
8. Constitutional amendments: Do you support the voter ID amendment? Do you support the same-sex marriage amendment?
Tschumper: I plan on voting against both of the proposed constitutional amendments and would encourage all voters to vote No.
Greg Davids and the Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for putting the anti-marriage amendment on the ballot. This is not a debate about marriage. This is a debate about equality. Our Constitution and its promise of equality isn't just for some of us, it isn't just for most of us, it's for all of us, including people who are gay and lesbian. Our Constitution has never been used to deny people rights. It has always been used to establish and expand people's rights. There are 15-30 million gay and lesbian people in this country. Does anyone really think that 30 years from now they are not going have full equality?
The anti-voter amendment is completely unnecessary. Because the Republicans lost two close statewide elections in recent years they blame our election laws. Voter fraud is practically non-existent in Minnesota. The worst thing about this amendment is that it will eliminate same day registration. For decades, Minnesota has led the nation in voter turnout because we have same day registration. Implementing this amendment could cost $40-50 million dollars with huge costs to counties and townships.
9. Other issues: Are there other issues you want to address?
Tschumper: Many programs vital to the well being of Minnesotans were cut by Greg Davids and the Republicans last year in their efforts to balance the budget without raising taxes. Funding for programs to help women and children who are victims of domestic abuse were severely cut or completely eliminated statewide. For example, funding for Fillmore Family Resources was completely eliminated and it closed September 30th, with several people losing their jobs. The funding for Bluff Country Family Resources in Houston County was cut 50 percent. We need to restore funding for these programs.
10. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications.
Tschumper: I am a lifelong resident of La Crescent Township. I am a graduate from Winona State University. My wife, Robin, and I have a small dairy farm west of La Crescent, which has been in my family since 1867. We have two fun granddaughters.
In 2006, I was elected to the Legislature and served one term. I served on the Health and Human Services Committee and the Local Government Committee. From that experience I realized that we could have much better representation in the Legislature than we currently have. There is just so much more that could be done for the people of our district if the right person holds that seat. I feel I proved my ability to really deliver when we had the 2007 flood. I helped pass the largest disaster assistance legislation in state history to help the people in southeastern Minnesota, with about 60 percent of that assistance going to residents and businesses and local government in Houston and Fillmore counties.