Agenda for Reform partisan, misleading

Michael Lafave
Guest Columnist

Rep. Bob Dettmer wrote in his Thursday, Jan. 25 letter in the Forest Lake Times Open Forum column that “Legislative leaders from the Minnesota House and Senate have unveiled “Agenda for Reform 2.0.”

Anyone reading the letter would think “the agenda” was a bipartisan agenda unveiled by bipartisan “legislative leaders.”

Thinking that “the agenda” was a bipartisan effort I was anxious to read it in its entirety. Unfortunately upon checking I discovered “the agenda” was really a document called “The Republican Agenda for Reform 2.0” and was not unveiled by a group of unbiased “legislative leaders” but rather the Republican Party leadership.

Although disappointed that Rep. Dettmer was misleading his constituents, it was still worthwhile to see what the complete Republican Agenda for Reform 2.0 really said.

Below are some of its highlights and thoughts.

Agenda for Reform 2.0” item – Equalizing government pay and benefits with those in the private sector.”

In Rep Dettmer’s letter he mentioned he was a teacher, so as an example let’s use equalizing teachers pay in the public and private schools for a comparison.

According to payscale.com in 2010 the average salary for a U.S. public school teacher was $42,153 and the average salary for a private school teacher was $35,342. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports public teaching salaries in Minnesota dropped from 17th in the nation in 2007 to 21st in 2009.

Do we really want to be in a race to the bottom when it comes to the education of our children, who are the future of our country?

Rep Dettmer was a public school teacher for 34 years in Forest Lake and received his public sector salary from taxpayers. Do you think Rep. Dettmer felt he was overpaid as a teacher and be willing to drop his pay to equal teachers in private schools?

As a House member, Dettmer is on the public payroll again and receiving a generous salary and benefit package provided by taxpayers.

In 2011 the Minnesota House met in regular session for 64 days. Dettmer received $42,462.29 in salary, daily per diem and mileage. Hypothetically, if Dettmer was working 10 hour days for 64 days during the 2011 Legislative session, he was making $66.34 per hour. If he was working 12 hour days, he was making $55.28 per hour. These numbers do not take into account the benefit package.

Dettmer also collected his full salary and benefits while he and his colleagues in St Paul couldn’t do their job properly and shutdown State government in 2011. He collected full salary and benefits during the shutdown while many of his colleagues chose not to.

Another Republican Agenda for Reform 2.0 item states: “Fix problems encountered during the government shutdown.”

It goes on to list a number of things to do in case of a shutdown, including keeping the horse racing tracks open, selling lottery tickets and “Let People Buy Beer” Aren’t they setting up contingency plans for when they fail again and shutdown the government?

The “Agenda for Reform 2.0” has another item: “Reform prevailing wage laws to lower the cost of construction projects”

The prevailing wage law (Minnesota Statutes 177.41 through 177.44) requires employees working on state-funded construction projects or other projects covered by law be paid wages comparable to wages paid for similar work in the area where the project is located.

Prevailing wage laws were enacted to prevent local wage standards from being undercut on state construction projects by low bidders that imported cheap labor. The intent of prevailing wage is to encourage employment of construction workers from the area where construction is taking place.

The item on prevailing wage seems to be looking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Dettmer also wrote “Reform 2.0 aims to reduce property taxes on commercial and industrial property and encourages growth.”

What about the homeowners who live in District 52A?

Last but not least is a secret agenda item, while not listed, the Republican leadership has introduced “right to work” legislation. The name in itself is misleading; doesn’t everyone have the right to work?\

Republicans argue it is a fairness issue; people should not be required to join a union. They forget to mention that under the current laws a majority of the employees vote to form a union and a majority of employees can vote out a union, just like we do with politicians.

In “right to work” states, employees are not required to pay for union representation, but still receive all the wages, health and retirement benefits and full representation rights that dues paying union members receive. Unions are required by “right to work” laws to represent employees who pay absolutely nothing to the union.

Imagine the outcry from organizations like the American Legion if legislators passed laws that allowed all veterans to walk in off the street and take advantage of activities, services and social events without paying membership fees.

How about if the American Association of Retired Persons had to provide all the benefits, services, discounts to everyone 50 or older and no fees were required?

In non right to work states as Minnesota currently is, workers are not required to join the union if they choose not to. However, these workers are required to pay a representational fee to cover the cost for the services the union provides such as contract negotiations, grievance and arbitration procedures and other union expenses related to general representational activities.

In addition, workers covered by a union contract can choose not to pay any portion of union dues that goes towards political activities.

“Right-to-work” laws are nothing more than an attack on the finances of unions used to hinder the union’s ability to properly represent their members and to silence the voice of workers in their place of employment and in the political arena.

The real problem lies with politicians like Dettmer who takes pledges not to raise taxes but in reality shirk their responsibilities by shifting state costs to later years and to local governments and school boards who in turn are forced to raise property taxes.

An agenda that is structured around lowering middle class wages and silencing the voice of working Minnesotans will make matters worse.

I have an agenda for Rep. Dettmer; put away the partisan politics, reach across the aisle and work together on solutions that will move Minnesota forward.

 — The writer lives in Forst Lake.

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