REGIONAL— State auditor and DFL gubernatorial hopeful Rebecca Otto is proposing a two-part plan to increase the skills and the wages of workers in Minnesota. The plan includes providing Minnesota …
REGIONAL— State auditor and DFL gubernatorial hopeful Rebecca Otto is proposing a two-part plan to increase the skills and the wages of workers in Minnesota. The plan includes providing Minnesota residents two years of public college or vocational training as well as a phased increase in the state’s minimum wage to $15.
“A high school education isn’t enough anymore,” said Otto, who released her latest proposal last Thursday. “We need equality in opportunity and we need to address the skills gap,” she said, noting that when workers lack needed skills, they end up working two or three jobs and barely making enough to raise a family. At the same time, said Otto, businesses are struggling to find qualified candidates for higher-skilled jobs with much higher pay and benefits. “We have good jobs that aren’t being filled,” she said. “This is about recommitting to the common good, to the notion that if you work a 40-hour week, you should be able to support your family.”
Otto’s proposal is the third in a five-part series of proposals that she said encompass her broader vision to renew Minnesota.
Otto said that during her recent listening tour around the state, she heard regularly about the struggles of families, but also their hopes and dreams for the future. “After identifying those issues, I’ve worked to put together a comprehensive plan, that all fits together. This is not just a laundry list of ideas.”
More than one political observer has noticed the similarities between Otto’s vision, which includes a major commitment to the advancement of clean energy, universal single-payer health care coverage, and free public college for up to two years, and the proposals offered by Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during his 2016 presidential bid. Sanders proved overwhelmingly popular with Minnesota DFLers, who favored Sanders over his rival Hillary Clinton by a wide margin and Otto is clearly hoping her progressive vision will set her apart from her other rivals in the race, including St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, First District Congressman Tim Walz, and Minnesota Reps. Erin Murphy and Tina Liebling.
Otto said it’s critical to reinvest in rural parts of the state, particularly in improving the skills of the workforce. According to her campaign, Otto knows of northern Minnesota businesses, for example, with vacant positions paying $70,000 a year that are going unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers. “This is about valuing work, and recommitting to rural communities,” said Otto. “People don’t want low wages and government supports. They want good-paying jobs.”
Otto proposes to improve the skills of the state’s workforce through her plan for free access to two years of public college or vocational training. That would include public community colleges in northeastern Minnesota, such as Vermilion, Mesabi, Hibbing, and Rainy River.
Otto said providing free tuition to those institutions would increase state spending by about $229 million in a biennium. “That’s about one-half of one percent of the budget,” she said.
Otto said the failure to make this investment has long-term consequences in terms of lost opportunity for future generations. “This mountain of college debt is going to leave a whole generation behind,” she said. But while Otto said her plan makes a commitment to help Minnesotans develop their skills, it also requires those benefitting from the education to make a commitment as well, including that they agree to work fulltime for at least four years in Minnesota, to participate in a mentoring program, and to provide 25 hours of community service.
On the minimum wage increase, Otto said she would take a phased approach, implementing the higher wage over five years, or seven years in the case of very small businesses. “We also recognize that in greater Minnesota, it might take more time,” she said.