Saturday, October 31, 2009

GINO Pawlenty is New (Ulm) In Town

Like the movie character Lucy Hill who was seeking career advancement, Tim Pawlenty came to New Ulm to talk business. In the film, New In Town , Lucy Hill had never been to Minnesota before so she had a lot to learn … yet somehow Tim Pawlenty seems to want to ignore that he has been Governor of the state since January 6, 2003 and that things have not gone well on his watch.

GINO Pawlenty is how many Minnesotans think of him today … Governor In Name Only … ignoring Minnesota while traveling around the country, and planning trips to Sao Paulo, Brazil and Santiago, Chile in December after a trip to Mexico in November.

Pawlenty took the time to visit New Ulm as part of the Job Growth Summit tour. His visit, like his Apple Valley session, was Chamber of Commerce event. Somehow a visit to the New Ulm Country Club is not the same as a walking the factory floor but that’s what a GINO would do.

Unlike his out of state travels where Pawlenty’s audience is interested in his Presidential ambitions, these Minnesota events prompt questions about Minnesota problems.
The questions can lead to some rather enlightening answers.
In Apple Valley, Pawlenty addressed the increase in minimum wage by advocating “a credit to hospitality businesses where employees earn tips.” Minnesota does not have a tip credit … for those states that allow it, a reduced pay rate for tipped employees can be as low as $2.13 under federal law.
In New Ulm, he faced questions regarding agriculture regulations which he responded requesting “farmers to write down specific examples” … gosh, for somebody that has been Governor this long, he sounds like this is the first he is hearing of the problems.
Then there was the complaint from a construction company owner that "The highway department doesn't bid work, and there is no incentive to change" … gosh, for somebody that has been Governor this long, he should have address this issue a long time ago. At least since his MN-DOT awarded the I-35 Bridge to a foreign-owned company over Burnsville-based Ames Construction and C.S. McCrossan of Maple Grove, one would have thought he would be senstive to local construction business concerns.

Yet, he did take time to join in the complaining by proclaiming that “too many public employees get paid for doing nothing” … gosh, for somebody that has been Governor this long, he sounds like he is complaining about his own failings.

But the best was when Pawlenty fielded a complaint from a New Ulm dentist about Minnesota's health care provider tax. “Pawlenty said he adamantly opposed the tax but couldn't get it replaced.”
WOW … now that’s an answer.
First, Pawlenty failed to acknowledge how essential that program was to his unallotment process in balancing the state budget. The Dental Access Alliance protested in advance of his unallotment due to past cuts. As Dr. Lee Jess, president of the Minnesota Dental Association explained “The state has already cut funding for oral health care by $18 million, or about 20 percent of the state’s total dental spending, during this past legislative session. This is enough. Further cuts to the remaining adult dental benefits of the Critical Access Dental Provider Program will be devastating, and in fact increase state health care spending in the long run.” Pawlenty’s response was to cut “$6.2 million to the Critical Access Dental Provider Program, which funds clinics that treat low-income and rural patients, as well as those with special needs. These cuts may force some clinics to close and force patients to visit hospital emergency rooms for treatment of their oral pain rather than the more cost effective use of dental offices. Statewide, there are currently more than 20,000 emergency room visits for dental care each year.”
Second, it has been stated repeatedly that businesses do not pay the tax … the tax gets added on the bill and paid by the consumer. In this case, since I write my check to the dentist who asked the question, I am paying the tax.
Third, ironically I have praised this dentist’s staff for being one of the 2,500 volunteer dental professionals that participate in the annual Give Kids a Smile outreach effort provided 5,200 needy children with free dental care.
Fourth, it is surprising that the dentist stated that the “Minnesota's health care provider tax drives dentists to other states where there is no such tax”. It’s possible that could be correct, but how well compensated are dental professionals in our state ? According to May 2008 US Labor Bureau statistics, Minnesota ranked third highest in the nation … and easily surpassing our bordering states (Wisconsin being the most competitive with Minnesota dental professionals earning a 23% premium and Nebraska being the lowest at a 38% lower wage). So, Doctor please stop complaining about an insignificant 2% Health Care Provider tax (which I pay) and address why your payroll is so high !

This event is supposed to be a Job Growth Summit, but the New In Town movie is an example of Minnesota’s failed job opportunity … at one time, it seemed that Minnesota had a vibrant film industry and although the movie was fictionally set in the real city of New Ulm, it was filmed in Winnipeg Canada . And the future does not look good for this industry, as Governor Pawlenty used his line item veto to the Economic Development and Housing Budget bill cut funds.

For the viewers of the film that invested 97 minutes of their time probably got what they expected … nothing special … no life altering revelations … no deep thoughts … just an opportunity to take a mental break with a mindless romantic comedy set in Minnesota.

For the invited luncheon guests that invested an equivalent amount got something entirely different. What should have been heartfelt and frank business discussion of how to grow jobs seemed to be nothing more than a social event for Governor Pawlenty, House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove (32-B), Senate Republican leader Dave Senjem (29), and Representative Paul Torkelson of St. James (21-B) to glad-hand with potential donors and supporters.

For the working people – either currently employed or seeking work – this was another show that makes one wonder why it was called a Job Growth Summit since they were not invited … it should have been called a Republican Self-Promotion Job-Preservation Political Summit.

When the cities were announced for the Jobs Tour (St. Cloud, Apple Valley, Red Wing, Sauk Centre, Minnetonka, Rochester, Blaine, New Ulm, Faribault, Shoreview, Bemidji, Eagan, Woodbury, Princeton, La Crescent, Monticello, Chisago City, Fergus Falls and Willmar), the list seemed to be slanted toward cities where Republicans have elected officials …. where’s Bemidji, Brainerd, Duluth, Hibbing, Mankato, St. Paul and other cities that are experiencing high unemployment ?

Fortunately for Minnesota, other leaders are looking at jobs also. Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher has established a Jobs Task Force … what is different about this is that it is bi-partisan … and interesting that the members come from a more varied group of cities. The first meeting included State Economist Tom Stinson, State Demographer Tom Gillaspy, Art Rolnick from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and others, who described Minnesota's economic situation and the challenges in creating jobs, workforce development, worker retraining programs and how to help speed Minnesota’s economic recovery.

I won’t spoil the plot ending for anyone who has not seen the New In Town movie by telling you whether Lucy Hill was able to save the New Ulm small business … but
Pawlenty’s show is getting old to Minnesotans … he seems to be only interested in his next job and not taking the responsibilities of his current job seriously.

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