Paul on KOZY Radio in Grand Rapids, 5/22/2014
Kathy Lynn: Good morning, I’m Kathy Lynn, we are back in the newsroom. Today we’re speaking with Speaker of the Minnesota House, Representative Paul Thissen. How are you today?
Paul Thissen: I am great, thank you.
KL: Now you’ve had a couple days to relax and kind of decompress from the Legislature and the good news is that the Governor has signed all the bills that were put on his desk.
PT: Yeah, he has and that is exciting news, I think, and rightly so, I think we passed a good strong set of bills and almost to a bill with bipartisan support, which I think is important as well.
KL: You started out the session very strong actually - the propane bill hit the Governor’s desk within, what, two weeks of the session starting.
PT: Maybe even a week, yeah it went very quickly, and if people think back twelve weeks, you know, we were in the middle of a very cold winter at that time and people were running short on the propane stuff. So a lot of good work was done to - in advance to get that bill to move quickly and I do think set the stage for the kind of session that we had, which was productive and efficient.
KL: Absolutely, you had, first of all you had the tax bill, which did a lot of repeals of the business to business taxes and that maybe the average person wouldn’t see that but they will see a change, for example, in property taxes, in renter’s credits, and that will be some more money in their pockets every day.
PT: Yeah, I mean I think that the thing that we were able to do with the tax bill this year is that the first tax bill also included what we call federal conformity, but really what that means is that people that have adopted kids, people who are married and you know we have this thing called the marriage penalty in Minnesota which we fixed with that tax bill, so over a million Minnesotans because of that first tax bill will see reductions on the income tax side, which is, you know, to a greater or lesser extent, which is important. And then the second tax bill that we just passed here at the end of the session built on what we did last year and had quite a bit [of] property tax relief for home owners and renters as well as, you know, farmers had a particular place in that bill as well. So, overall, if you look over the past two years, I think if you total up the total amount of people whose taxes increased and we did increase some taxes on the folks, you know, the richest Minnesotans that make the top two percent of incomes in the state and closed some corporate loopholes compared to the tax cuts, I think actually more people will likely see tax reductions as a result of the past two years in tax increases.
KL: Absolutely, the biggie I think, the bonding bill - it just was signed by the Governor, what, Monday?
PT: Monday, yeah.
KL: Monday, yeah, wow.
PT: No, and I mean another, that really was the centerpiece in some sense of the session. That’s the main piece of work that we had to get done this year and build projects all across the state, and you know a lot in the higher education arena to make sure that we have our - that the facilities that are available to the college students are top notch. A lot of infrastructure, in roads and bridges; money was put into that, waste water treatment plants, I mean those kinds of things that are the kind of the backbone of stuff. Plus a lot of, a lot of buildings in communities all across the state you know from my hometown Minneapolis we did some work there, you know here in Grand Rapids, the Art Center got some money to improve that and the thing that gets lost or sometimes the discussion of that is that those are really meaningful projects in those communities that will make a difference not just in the jobs that are created as a result of that, but the long term impact that it has on making Minnesota the kind of place that we all want to live in.
KL: Yeah, I know the bonding bill was the focus actually of this session, but there was a couple other issues that took away from it just a little bit - medical marijuana.
PT: Yes, we were able to, at the last half session as well, to pass what I think is a good compromise on the medical marijuana, taking into account concerns on public safety, you know, and medical efficacy, you know, the medical association was, you know, neutral to support of the bill that we finally passed. But also, and this is the most important thing, I think, really, at least giving some relief to some true humanitarian problem. And there are families out there who - and individuals who - get relief from medical cannabis, where they don’t get relief from any other types of medications, and so providing the opportunity to get access to that type of medication while still watching how this whole thing is evolving. And I think that that’s the important thing for people to remember, that this is an evolving issue, we want to make sure that we’re doing it in a prudent way, but also getting that relief to families and I think that this bill hit that - hit that strike zone pretty well.
KL: I think that a lot of people were worried that we would go the Colorado route.
PT: Right, and we’re not - and we’re not heading in that, and I think that’s what I mean, we need to watch and see, so this is a more narrowly tailored bill, that’s certainly the case. And then as time goes and we see what happens with other states that are experimenting with this, you know, we can continue to evolve this program to make sure again we’re watching those public safety concerns, those medical concerns, but also providing relief to people who need it.
KL: Sure. The Women’s Economic Security act also was passed and signed.
PT: Yeah, well that was really - that was exciting. Because I really, I mean that was one of the things that was personally closest to my heart, as we moved through the session. And really what that was about, it kind of ties very much in with the other big thing this session, which was the increase in the minimum wage from one of the lowest in the country to 9.50 an hour in 2016. But the Women’s Economic Security Act really builds on our, our real focus in the past two years has been how do we continue to build middle class prosperity in Minnesota and some security, kind of a baseline people can count on as they kind of look to the future and build their economic security for their families. And as we dug underneath the facts and the evidence as we looked at it, it was very clear that if we were going to make a difference on that, move the needle on that, the place we really needed to focus on was women because they tend to make up a much larger proportion of the folks that are struggling to, or trying to stay in, the middle class - struggling to get into or trying to stay in the middle class. And so we focused on the, you know, raise the minimum wage was actually one of the pieces of it, but also thinking about you know how do we make sure that women who tend to have more of the character of responsibility still to this day, not just for kids, but for parents and for older spouses that they’re not discriminated against in the workplace because they take on those other really important obligations and how do we make sure that we are giving women the chance to break out of kind of the traditional roles, in not just being homemakers, which is an important part of it, but traditional jobs that they tend to get into and get into higher paying, you know, technological jobs, those kind of things. So, it was a very comprehensive effort and I am really pleased, it is, in fact, quite amazing to think that we moved from launching this in January to getting so much of this passed in such a short - you know, three months, that’s kind of unheard of in legislative timing and terms. So, I’m really excited about that.
KL: And something as simple as allowing - it used to be six weeks of unpaid leave - to twelve weeks for the birth of a child.
PT: That’s exactly right, and that makes a big difference for, and not just for women, but you know, for men and for families in general and I think that that’s the other important point, is that this is trying to establish, you know, this will affect everybody and be good for everybody.
KL: That was one of my other points, was the minimum wage.
PT: Yes, and which, you know, I think was really one of the significant victories of the legislative session. You know, there was a lot of talk about the economics around it. My sense is that you’re getting more money into the pockets of the people who are absolutely gonna spend it because they are really living on the margins, it is gonna be good for the community’s economy in general. But even setting that economic piece aside, to me, the fundamental thing is, you know, if you’re gonna be working a full-time, forty hours a week and many folks are working, you know, two jobs, you know, sixty, seventy hours a week, that you shouldn’t have to live in poverty if you are doing that. And that should be a fundamental value, that I think most Minnesotans would agree with, to me that is what the minimum wage debate was really all about.
KL: Is there anything that I haven’t touched on that you would like to add?
PT: No, I mean, I think that it was - I think that it was a quick session, but we really got a lot done, it was very productive, pragmatic. I do want to emphasize again, because I it’s important and unusual these days that almost to a bill out of the bills that we passed, they were passed by partisan support. And I just think that that tells us something about where politics are in Minnesota today and I think, in contrast with the state of Washington D.C., with kind of the gridlock that we see there, the last two years have shown that if you roll up your sleeves and work on some pragmatic policies that are going to help people in their everyday lives, you really can get a lot done and I think that as I look back at the last two years that is what I think about.
KL: Well thank you for taking the time to stop in and talk with us live, we really appreciate it.
PT: Oh, thrilled to, thank you.
KL: And safe journey through the next couple of cities.
PT: Thank you, have a good day.
KL: Thanks, you, too. I’m Kathy Lynn in the news room.