Rain interrupted field work this week, but at least the wet conditions made it easier for me break away to attend meetings at the Capitol in St. Paul. On Thursday, a legislative panel discussed the Vikings stadium. I will provide more on that soon, along with information from a committee discussion of huge importance to agricultural areas like ours: nitrogen loading in the Mississippi River.
Meantime, here is a rundown of some recent headlines:
MNsure off to rocky start. Minnesota’s state-run version of “Obamacare” is MNsure and it took flight Tuesday, despite serious concerns leading up to and through its scheduled launch. The Star Tribune reported on some of the frustrations Minnesotans are facing. Citizens are most concerned with access to the doctor of their choice, affordability and privacy when it comes to health care. There are question marks in all three areas as MNsure gets up and running.
–The online enrollment process currently does not allow citizens to choose specific doctors.
–Supporters of MNsure have been indicating Minnesota’s rates are the lowest in the nation. This is only true when you compare MNsure rates with other states’ Obamacare rates. Private-market rates are actually cheaper.
–A serious breach of data privacy recently occurred when an errant email sent the private information of thousands of Minnesotans to an unauthorized, public email address. Social Security numbers were included in that email, leaving many citizens taken aback.
Tax increases hitting home. I have been hearing from people in the area ag. industry who are facing significant increases in the costs of equipment repair due to a tax increase enacted earlier this year. Labor on repairs of farm implements can be quite expensive, so this new tax amounts to more than loose change. This is very damaging to our ag. industry and I continue to express opposition to this new tax. It is my hope we can revisit this issue in the 2014 session and get the tax back off the books. Also, we are still waiting to see what impacts the $2.83 increase per pack of cigarettes will have on Minnesota businesses. Store owners in border cities could have a tough time staying open if Minnesotans take their business to neighboring states (not just cigarettes, but gasoline, snacks, lottery tickets and other convenience-store items people often purchase at the same time).
Tough time for nursing homes. Nursing home representatives from within District 12B spoke about some very concerning issues when I recently met with them. They are forced to turn away applicants for admission because of a worker shortage, apparently caused by years of underfunding by the state. Workers reportedly are leaving nursing homes – or leaving openings vacant – to pursue other employment. This situation could become even worse if the legislative majority is successful in raising the minimum wage in the 2014 session. The nursing home people with whom I spoke said their employees currently make more than minimum wage. They would lose that workforce advantage if the minimum wage increases and cannot afford to enact raises of their own to retain that incentive. Nursing home workers did recently receive a modest raise, but it was not enough to compensate for years of stagnant funding from the state.