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These comments are responses to the statements listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Ken Peterson Interview of

Ken Peterson: Minnesota must self-finance, increase tax revenue to succeed


Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry Ken Peterson says that Minnesota is in comparatively good economic condition now and has strengths that give it a competitive advantage into the future. He makes the point, though, that Minnesota must self-finance, because unlike other fast-growing or high-income states, it cannot depend on factors like oil or high federal spending to drive income growth. Peterson posits that for Minnesota to be a high-income state, it must be a high-tax state. He discusses the need to prepare workers to take over high-skill jobs in the construction trades and in precision manufacturing and says that a college degree is not necessarily the right path for everyone. He looks at the possibility of chartered schools helping to train students in the construction trades and at the importance of attacking obstacles to the hiring of people of color and people with low incomes. Peterson backs Gov. Mark Dayton's support of a proposal calling for major expansion of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and supports copper-nickel mining, if it can be done cleanly. 

For the complete interview summary see:

Response Summary: Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Ken Peterson. Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readersí zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. MN economy is a strength. (7.1 average response) With comparatively high per-capita income and comparatively low unemployment, Minnesota has a strong economic position among the 50 states.

2. MN must self-finance with higher taxes. (5.2 average response) Lacking such big revenue producers as oil or the benefit of heavy federal spending, Minnesota can continue to be a high-income state only if it self-finances with higher than average taxes.

3. Invest more in education. (7.2 average response) The state must invest more in the "best jobs program", i.e., education, from early childhood through postsecondary levels.

4. Encourage technical degrees. (8.6 average response) Because of the need for more technically skilled workers, we should encourage more students to work toward two-year technical degrees, rather than encouraging all to aim for four-year college degrees.

5. Invest in Mayo expansion. (6.8 average response) Investing in the Mayo Clinicís expansion in Rochester will be good for Minnesota.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. MN economy is a strength.







2. MN must self-finance with higher taxes.







3. Invest more in education.







4. Encourage technical degrees.







5. Invest in Mayo expansion.







Individual Responses:

Ray Ayotte (7.5) (10) (5) (7.5) (10)

David Broden (10) (0) (10) (10) (10)

1. MN economy is a strength. I agree with a strong position based on these metrics--however when viewed in terms of innovation, new starts, and similar factors, the rankings which will shape the future of Minnesota are not necessarily as bright. I caution all readers and those who assess these parameters to put the strengths in proper perspective of both the current and future of Minnesota.

2. MN must self-finance with higher taxes. This statement is a huge misrepresentation of the strength of Minnesota. Minnesota does not need a special industry like oil or a major defense company to raise the level of federal spending. (I will note that due to some mistakes in Minnesota government and the overall community, Minnesota has lost a group cluster of 1st class defense and aerospace companies-- a study why they left is appropriate). Minnesota economic strength remains as the center hub of the 9th Fed district, medical device industry, agriculture, mining with growth opportunities. Those who hang Minnesotaís future on higher taxes only, rather than promoting strong growth, are not really in tune with economic and business reality.

3. Invest more in education. Education has been and must be the core of Minnesota future. The education strengthens and builds the strong workforce ethic of quality and diligence as well as commitment to the job. This same education system must support the life long learning focus as well as be the center of research and technology to feed the industries of today and the future.

4. Encourage technical degrees. This is definitely true and must be a keystone thrust in student options and career development. However it makes no sense to have the state of the art vo-tech skills if we also are not expanding the number of student in professional technical and related degrees. The vo-tech jobs exist because the professional technical teams have designed the product that must be made. Seeking the proper balance is a critical need.

5. Invest in Mayo expansion. The Mayo is one of the most significant trademarks or brands of Minnesota-- it is the stateís largest employer; it draws people worldwide. The economy of Rochester/Olmsted County impacts the entire state in many ways. Today perhaps the expansion of Mayo and Rochester is worthy comparison to what the taconite boom did for the iron range. Those who do not see the benefits are simply too focused on narrow issues.

Frank Long (2.5) (0) (2.5) (7.5) (2.5)

1. MN economy is a strength. As a landscaping contractor with a customer base built over time, many in that base are choosing to leave this state for less expensive places, tax- and cost-of-living-wise. Especially retirees.

2. MN must self-finance with higher taxes. Higher taxes kill the competitive business climate. Ford, Delta, Honeywell and GE aren't leaving or drastically downsizing because of a positive business climate, and those lost jobs trickle down to a dwindling base of customers in the customer service and construction trades, which in turn affects the pricing those industries can effectively command. Adding higher taxes merely stresses these businesses and affects the survival of this tax base. While we don't have oil we have other resources that have been held hostage by the environmental lobby. It is unfortunate that the influence of those extremists has even effected sand mining in this state to try to exert control over bordering states exploiting their own resources.

3. Invest more in education. I have been in the skilled construction trades for 35 years, including 10 years in the technical field of environmental remediation, supervising hydrologists, electronic technicians, and assorted field and support staff. Education only has value by those who can and will apply it. I have dealt with, disciplined and fired many very educated people. I was in charge of these people because of ability and experience acquired in the field, not a college degree. I did not work in the petroleum field until the age of 23 and the remediation branch until 27, and so to think you can pigeon-hole people with an education or that anyone who receives a extensive (and expensive) education can or will put it to good use is largely a fallacy.

5. Invest in Mayo expansion. I don't think "investing" in any selected industry is a good return for the bulk of those paying for it. I would support some form of bonding assistance to help the Mayo Board of Directors rationalize continuing to expand in this increasingly expensive-to-operate State.

Bruce A. Lundeen (2.5) (5) (7.5) (10) (5)

1. MN economy is a strength. I wish I could make $46,227 per year.

Scott Halstead (10) (10) (10) (10) (0)

2. MN must self-finance with higher taxes. Our revenue streams need to be more balanced. Our legislature size needs to be reduced 40 - 50% and perhaps [be made] unicameral. In the metro area, we have excessive local government. In Ramsey County, there should be 2 or 3 cities. Our national tax, subsidies, [and] reimbursement systems need to be leveled so all states are on a level playing field. Minnesota government needs to be very effective, resourceful and continuously subject to analysis and revitalization so we are competitive. Business shouldn't be crying for income and property tax breaks and seeking local subsidies.

Chris Brazelton (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (10)

2. MN must self-finance with higher taxes. Whether that means raising the tax rates, or raising tax revenues by closing loopholes, including online retail, remains to be seen. Businesses grow here because quality education creates skilled workers. High skilled workers want the high quality of life we have here. That comes at a price.

Vici Oshiro (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

5. Invest in Mayo expansion. Yes, more in various categories above, but also smarter. I think [the] Dayton administration has been working hard on the "smarter."

Josh D. Ondich (7.5) (2.5) (5) (7.5) (5)

Chuck Slocum (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (5)

1. MN economy is a strength. The state must compete more broadly than within the 50 states. Being at the top of a declining national economy is not enough. Employers need to better articulate future workforce needs and skills.

2. MN must self-finance with higher taxes. People and their economic success are the state's most important capital producing resource.

3. Invest more in education. The effective early learning and literacy of the most at-risk/high-potential kidsó one in threeómust be more of a priority. We have been unsuccessful for decades at closing the achievement gap.

4. Encourage technical degrees. No doubt about technically skilled workers. The state must adapt to take advantage of the online learning potential to help in essential workforce preparation.

5. Invest in Mayo expansion. Mayo as a preeminent global destination health care center is a very good thing for Minnesota. State funding commitments for infrastructure costs over the expansion period deserves a careful analysis (bonding, LGA issues) and that plan is now being debated and amended. How we do this is important.

Audrey Clay (7.5) (7.5) (10) (7.5) (10)

Bruce Ahlgren (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (10)

Don Anderson (7.5) (7.5) (5) (10) (7.5)

Anonymous (0) (0) (7.5) (7.5) (0)

Paul and Ruth Hauge (7) (8) (8) (7) (7)

The objectives make sense but should be taken in relatively small steps, i.e., tax increases, but they must begin now so that we don't lose more ground in relation to competitive states.

Wayne Jennings (8) (8) (9) (10) (10)

Another area for comment is productivity, the ability to do more, better. I suggest as a speaker, Tor Dahl, a world expert in productivity. His business headquarters are in White Bear Lake.

S. D. Hawkins (5) (0) (0) (9) (5)

No. 2 does not make sense. If you tax the producers, how does that make for high income? That just allows for high spending until the tax base shifts downward and another 'tax' crisis occurs. High taxes will not encourage private investment in this state. It only encourages high government spending. In regard to No. 3, presumably you've read the government report on the effectiveness of Head Start.

Dick Lewis (6) (0) (3) (8) (4)

I don't believe we can "tax our way to prosperity." Increasing number of businesses will relocate to employer-friendly states and an increasing number of retirees will choose to relocate. I had always assumed I would retire here but am now in doubt. We need to generate income by attracting businesses (medical, technology, etc. since we are not an area that has oil or gas) and we need to spend what we collect more carefully.

Tom Spitznagle (8) (1) (5) (8) (7)

Changing demographics will make it very unlikely that Minnesota can rely primarily on higher tax rates to fund ever-expanding programs. Priorities will have to be defined at all levels of government and available financial resources (reasonable tax revenues) allocated accordingly. Itís backwards to first define what programs politicians want to implement and then afterwards look around to see who is going to pay for them and how much their taxes need to go up. When households and businesses use this kind of approach for financial management, itís not uncommon for the end result to often be bankruptcy.

John Milton (9) (10) (10) (7) (8)

On question #4, we should be doing both two-year and four-year degrees, depending on the employer needs assessment

Bill Kuisle (4) (0) (2) (8) (5)

Dale Lueck (3) (0) (3) (8) (5)

Self-financing a strong state economy and high personal incomes through higher taxes? Sounds like economic theory from a box of cracker jacks. The answer is better communication between the people that operate companies and our education system. Our current education system is almost clueless on what is needed in the work place.

Chuck Lutz (9) (9) (9) (8) (10)

Carolyn Ring (9) (3) (8) (10) (10)

Minnesota goods and services have to compete in the market with all others. Higher taxes are passed on to the general public in higher prices and/or result in companies large and small moving to lower taxing states.

Bruce Lundeen (na) (na) (na) (na) (na)

Having over and over and over again fought uphill and losing battles in employment in trades related and manufacturing careers, this interview with Ken Peterson, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industries pulls at my heart like a George Jones weeper

It is very encouraging to read Commissioner Petersonís counsel that four-year degrees may not be the best education for everyone, and that there are fine careers available to persons who matriculate at MNSCU schools. The perceived skills gap is less about analytical and relational skills learned in a four-year University, but more about the simpler, more mundane tasks that include procuring materials, adding value to products, assembly, shipping, and providing follow-up customer support.

The loss of precision materials manufacturing skills that has occurred in the last twenty or thirty years is an actual threat to national security, as well as economic security. The not readily apparent knowledge and subtle skills of an experienced worker in manufacturing is not well appreciated. What goes into building a product goes way beyond the obvious proprietary knowledge.

Commissioner Petersonís observations about the international competitiveness and the wages small smaller manufactures can afford to pay should be well understood. The problem is so severe that for most young Americans there are no other jobs available than [those] at Starbucks, who in fact is a pretty good employer relatively speaking.

However, the improper exclusionary hiring practices of the construction trades were not fairly discussed. That any particular trade, electricians for instance, is over supplied is not a disadvantage. When there are two many electricians for the current construction economic circumstance, those unemployed electricians can take their skills to other positions in manufacturing and service industries.

I find it very disagreeable that the state creates a protected class, especially when the laws and charters created for the Department by the legislature specifically prohibit this. No casual observer can deny the absence of minority representation in the construction trades, or the exorbitant labor costs of construction that limiting entry to the trades [causes].

Lyall Schwarzkopf (8) (5) (8) (6) (6)

Rochester needs to stand up and pay for much of the infrastructure that Mayo Clinic wants. Minneapolis had to stand up and pay for the Dome, for its Convention Center and for the Nicollet Mall. Rochester needs to do the same.

Jack-Sally Evert (9) (8) (10) (7) (5)

Swain, Tom (8) (9) (10) (10) (10)


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   David Broden,  Janis Clay,  Bill Frenzel,  Paul Gilje,   Jan Hively,  Dan Loritz (Chair),  Marina Lyon,  Joe Mansky, 
Tim McDonald,  John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  Wayne Popham  and Bob White

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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