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At the League of Women Voters Candidate Debate at A crowd of more than 100 listens to a debate sponsored by the LeAlexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) on October 18, 2016, Incumbent Mary Franson gave us reason to pause.  The very first question of the debate was from the Echo Press asking about support for a local government funding increase.  Gail immediately agreed to give support to increasing Local Government Aid (LGA) with detailed numbers on her reasons for support.  Mary Franson then also agreed she would support, listing a half dozen towns in her district that rely on these funds.  Gail then asked in rebuttal, if Mary agreed with this increase, why she had voted to freeze LGA.  Mary sat in silence, seeming to not comprehend that she was being asked for a response.  Moderator Ken Howell asked Mary if she’d like to respond and she replied, “No.”

In full disclosure, I report that I am the VAN Administrator for the Gail Kulp campaign.  I do this even though I don’t live in Gail’s district because I believe so thoroughly in her.  That said, I don’t feel like I’ve done much for the campaign – if you’ve read other blogs, I’ve been busy with the Harn!  And certainly no one is working harder than Gail herself.  She and her campaign manager have knocked over 5500 doors this season!  She’s earned every vote with lots of hard work and I trust she will work just as hard if we can get her elected.

gail-kulp

So, what exactly was Gail asking on the Mary Franson LGA freeze?  She was asking about House Bill HF 2337, which passed 72-62 on the House floor in 2012, mostly with Republican support.  This bill phased out statewide property tax over 12 years beginning in 2014 (paid for in part through a reduction in the renter’s credit of $70 million), froze LGA at 2012 levels for cities over 2,500 in population, and modified the LGA freeze for cities under 2,500 in population (2013 LGA is the greater of 2012 LGA or 2013 formula LGA).  And yes, Mary voted for these freezes.  https://votesmart.org/bill/votes/40048#.WAtl8_krKM8 This bill also passed in the Senate and Bill Ingebrigtsen supported it as well. https://votesmart.org/bill/votes/40049?s=name#.WAtlLPkrKM8

The most striking question in the second portion of the LWV Debate regarded Minimum Wage.  This debate was between Incumbent Bill Ingebrigtsen (R) and Shawn Olson (D).  Bill fielded this question saying that a higher minimum wage is a bad idea.  What people need to do is “work harder”.   Struggling with bills?  Work a second job.  He’s done it.  This makes me want to ask him how many hours a parent should have to work to support a family of four?  80? 100? And how do they have any family time working these long hours?  And if rent alone eats up 70% of the income, how do they afford food, let alone shoes for the kids?

What is MN current Minimum Wage and how mnminwagemuch does that mean someone can count on to support their family?  Well, it first depends on how big an employer you have.  Your wage will be either $7.75/hour or, if a bigger company, $9.50/hour.  And how much do you bring home?  Anywhere from about $14,500 to $17,500 (Gross of $16,120 & $19,760, respectively).  Let’s say we have two full-time minimum wage jobs, one at the higher rate and one at the lower, so we’re bringing home $32K for our family of four.

So what does it cost to live here in Douglas County?  How much do you need to make to live?  Well here’s a good website to figure it.  https://mn.gov/deed/data/data-tools/col/  Their definition of Cost of Living (COL) is that it represents neither a poverty-level living nor a middle-class living but rather a living that meets basic needs for health and safety. Based on this data, a family of four with two full-time wage earners will require almost $60K.  Almost twice as much as we’re going to bring home with our minimum wage jobs!  Costs include $10,800 for housing, $9600 for transportation, $7500 for child care, $11,800 for food, $5000 for health care, and $7000 for other expenses.  Well, we blew the budget at child care so we only have $4100 for food and no health care, let alone deodorant, toothpaste, clothes and shoes.

What if one parent stays home while the other works?  No child care costs, right?  But we’d need to make $22.97/hour to make it work here in Douglas County with our $47,776 income.  How about a full-time and a part-time worker?  Mom can work nights while Dad’s home with the kids, right?  Well, that might work, though any kind of family time with Mom and Dad splitting shifts is negligible. There are only so many hours in the day, Bill!  Yet, this is often how many of the working poor make due.

Even someone young and single would need to bring home a wage of $12.21/hour to live in Douglas County based on the Cost of Living calculator.  So, “work harder”?!?  Sounds at best uninformed… and at worst, frankly quite cold-hearted.   In addition, Bill acknowledged that he had free college at ATCC… but he doesn’t think it’s feasible for today’s young people to get that same advantage.  How many times has a Republican used “government services” to find success in adulthood only to go into politics and work to cut those same services for the next generation?  What hypocrites.

I was too tired to stay around for the third debate between Westrom and Hinrichs but I hear Russ did well.  I’ve already voted and, though Gail is not in my district, I am hopeful she will bring home a win for the DFL this year.

One of the most damning pieces of information about Representative Franson comes from her own reports.  Here’s what State Reps are paid:

State legislators

Salary Per diem
$31,141/year $86/day for senators and $66/day for representatives, per approval of the committee chair or leadership. Set by the legislature.

Well, apparently Franson cost us more than twice her salary in 2015 as her expenses and per diem charges were $36,993.62.  This is even more than the Speaker of the House!  https://cbsminnesota.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/2015_minnesotahouseexpensereport.pdf Where on Earth is she spending all these funds?  Her spending is the fourth highest of the 134 Representatives.  Yet many of these Representatives live farther from St. Paul than she does.  How do they do it on less?  I’m sure Gail Kulp can do better.  I’m betting Jay McNamar can give her some tips.  His 2015 expenses?  $227.12.  No, I didn’t leave out a zero.  That’s less than 250 dollars!  And if you look at the spending as I did, you find that most of the lowest expenses are for DFL Representatives.  I bet we could knock quite a lot off this $2.2M+ line item if we put more DFLers into office.

It’s time for a change in our representation in St. Paul.  Let’s send in a team of people who will stand up for working people and local businesses, not big corporations and the wealthy.  Representatives that will bring new ideas and non-partisanship to our Legislature. Vote Gail Kulp, Russ Hinrichs, Jay McNamar, and Shawn Olson in 2016.

Photo Credit: Echo Press on top photo http://www.echopress.com/news/4141195-candidates-legislature-vie-votes
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