here for PDF format
Participant Responses to This
of Meeting with State Rep. Joe Atkins
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
speaker: State Rep. Joe Atkins,
Heights, MN, co-chair of the House-Senate 2020 Conference
Johnson, chair; Charles Clay, Diane Flynn, Bill Frenzel (by phone), Paul
Gilje, Jim Hetland, Wayne Popham (by phone), Zach Pettus, Citizens League;
Tim Schuster, Citizens League, and Kelly Weber (Citizens League)
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus has been reviewing issues of polarization and paralysis in
the Minnesota Legislature. Today we're learning more about a group of
legislators on both sides of the aisle who have organized themselves into
a bipartisan group, the 2020 Conference.
Welcome and introductions--Verne and Paul welcomed State
Rep. Joe Atkins, Inver Grove Heights. Atkins, a lawyer and
DFLer, formerly served on the Inver Grove Heights School Board, and later
as mayor of Inver Grove Heights. He was first elected to the Minnesota
House in 2002 and re-elected in 2004 and 2006. He chairs the House
Commerce and Labor Committee. He is co-chair along with Sen. Goeff
Michel, Edina Republican, of the Minnesota 2020 Conference, a voluntary
organization of legislators.
Comments and discussion--During
Atkins' comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Background on the 2020 Conference--The
2020 Conference was formed in 2005, with both House and Senate and
majority and minority members represented. Today the Conference has just
over 60 members, almost equally represented by Republicans and Democrats
and members of the House and Senate, Atkins said..
2. Objectives of the 2020 Conference--One
can get an idea of the Conference's objectives from the name of the
organization, he said. In the year 2020 a demographic development will
occur in Minnesota that probably is unprecedented in the history of the
planet. That is the year in which the number of elderly in Minnesota
(persons over age 65) will first exceed the school age population (age
5-19). The Conference was formed, as its website states, "to highlight
the need to prepare today for tomorrow’s significant demographic changes."
3. Need for longer-range planning--Mostly
the state looks two to four years in the future, Atkins said. The 2020
Conference thinks the state needs to look 20-30 years ahead. Think of the
way individuals invest in higher education, he said. We don't hesitate
putting money into four years of college, because we have confidence that
such an investment will bear fruit 20 to 30 years in the future. The
2020 conference consults frequently with Tom Stinson, state economist, and
Tom Gillaspie, state demographer, he said.
4. Long-term care a key issue--In
light of demographic changes, the 2020 Conference has made long-term care
a major focus, particularly trying to find new options for seniors to be
able to continue to live in their own homes, he said. During discussion
with Atkins it was noted that Citizens League representatives are present
at today's meeting. The Citizens League has placed long term care as one
of its top priorities. Atkins said that the 2020 Conference has a close
relationship with the Citizens League and relies heavily on Citizens
5. Emphasis on building relationships--The
2020 Conference is concentrating on building relationships among
legislators across party lines and between House and Senate. It is
amazing, he said, that many members of the House and Senate, even of the
same political party, don't know each other.
6. Preserving flexibility on revenue and
spending--Atkins was asked whether the dedication of revenues
to certain services represents a trend for the state to the year 2020 and
beyond. Atkins replied by citing recent legislative actions providing for
dedication of taxes to outdoors, water and the arts, and to transit and
roads. Dedication is attractive to some legislators, he said, because it
is easier for them to inform taxpayers exactly what function is being
helped by a given revenue source. He feels that probably the Legislature
should not move any further in this direction, however.
Caucus member noted that demands for tax dollars far exceed the revenues
that ever will be available. Thus the key question is how do you, with
limited dollars, set priorities among competing services, something that
isn't possible if each service has its own guaranteed revenue source.
7. Needed leadership on transportation--A
Civic Caucus member asked whether it shouldn't be possible for a
comprehensive transportation plan to be presented to the Legislature, even
with the existence of separate funding sources, many of them
constitutionally guaranteed for different jurisdictions. With a
comprehensive plan presented, the Legislature could have an opportunity to
have a stronger role in setting priorities across jurisdictions, without
just bemoaning the fact that different revenues are guaranteed to
different jurisdictions. The member noted that a comprehensive plan
could include a strong commitment to congestion relief, with a need for
priorities to be set across many jurisdictions involved in transportation,
such as the state, counties, and cities, and transit organizations.
Atkins said he has no disagreement with the need to set such priorities.
discussed the approval yesterday by the Legislature of a transportation
bill that will increase the gasoline tax by 8 1/2 cents, increase vehicle
license fees, and impose a 1/4 cent sales tax in the metropolitan area.
It was noted that the Governor had made a separate proposal for bonding
but has promised a veto on tax increases. Some persons wondered if the
approach followed by the Legislature--to pass a bill quickly, without
debating the Governor's proposal--is representative of an effort to reach
consensus. Atkins said the legislative leadership might have been too
unyielding in passing its own bill so quickly, without evaluating other
said he looked over yesterday's bill quickly and was pleased to see
language that talked about setting priorities, such as, for example,
emphasizing using the funds for projects of regional significance and for
projects of greatest congestion.
8. Difficulty with 2020 Conference proposal on
long-term budget planning--Atkins said a key part of the 2020
Conference legislative program this year was a proposal for requiring
l0-year budget projections. However, the bill has little chance of
approval this year because a fiscal note prepared by legislative staff
estimated the cost of such projections at $15 million.
9. Strong support for redistricting--Moving
on to other topics, Atkins said he would change the present system for
redistricting in a heartbeat. The present process with heavy legislative
involvement creates a great deal of ill will. Someone else, not
legislators, should be drawing the boundaries.
10. Support for a presidential primary in
Minnesota--Atkins said that the large numbers of Minnesotans
who wanted to vote on precinct caucus night clearly indicates that
citizens want a chance to participate in the process of selecting the
President, and Atkins believes that a presidential preference primary here
is better than using the precinct caucuses.
11. Support for more open nominations for other
offices--It was noted that the political parties try to
discourage others from filing in primary elections against party
endorsees. Atkins replied that we should have an open primary because
we shouldn't be discouraging people from seeking public office. In fact,
we should hope for as many candidates as possible.
12. Support for experiments in Instant Runoff
Voting (IRV)--Atkins said he would love to see IRV tried in the
state on a pilot basis. If it works, then it could be implemented more
13. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Atkins for meeting with us today.
Responses to This Interview
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.