Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Week of November 25, 2007

Schedule: At church on Sunday, the speaker was Tom Gillaspy, the state demographer. He spoke about how our population is aging. That will have massive fiscal repercussions for us as the baby boomers retire. On Tuesday, November 27th, I toured Century College in White Bear Lake/Mahtomedi with the chair of the House Higher Education Committee, Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), and Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-White Bear Lake). Several hundred of my constituents attend Century so I wanted to tag along for the tour, since I haven't been there before. (The number of students from 53A at local MnSCU campuses is listed in a previous post.
Here are a couple of interesting items that I heard at Century:
* The state is not going to have enough dentists in the near future. Century is training hygienists and other dental technicians.
* The state has a nursing shortage, and Century's nursing program now has the state's first paramedic-to-RN accelerated program. (My neighbor is participating in this program.)
* Century has one of just seven orthotics and prosthetic labs in the U.S. The campus is cranking out graduates who then--among other things--are producing artificial limbs for returning veterans. In fact, some Iraq vets are in the program.
* The student body comes from 100+ nationalities. Their digital language lab (DLL) assists many students in their English proficiency.
* Minnesota imports engineers from other states and countries. To meet future labor needs, Century has a fabrication lab (the "Fab Lab") where students learn applied engineering. They get an associate of applied science degree and many complete a four-year degree at the University of Minnesota.

We also met with some faculty and members of the student Senate. More than 200 veterans are students. I met three of them in a meeting with the student senate.

Some other interesting factoids:
* For each additional $6 million annually from the state, the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities System (MnSCU) can reduce tuition by 1% for a year. Tuition at Century went up by only 4% this year after much larger increases in past years.
* Seven percent of full-time equivalent course loads at Century are taken on-line
* There is a dispute between the legislature and the MnSCU board of trustees as to how much the MnSCU office should be spending on technology versus tuition reduction.

In the afternoon of November 27th, I attended a meeting of the Eastern Transportation Alliance (ETA), a group of city and county governments that are promoting transit expansion in the greater St. Paul metro area and areas from Chisago County in the north to Olmsted County in the south. The group is asking the Governor and the Legislature for $140 million in bonding money in 2008 to complete the Central Corridor light rail line along University Avenue. The idea is that this line, along with a refurbished Union Depot in St. Paul, will allow suburbs in the northeast and southeast metro to tap into a larger transit network. Our district is kind in the middle of transit proposals to the east (like the Rush Line) and to the west (Northstar Corridor and a proposed passenger rail line from Duluth to Minneapolis via Cambridge). You can get a better idea of what is proposed in the Central Corridor and the Union Depot at the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority website.

I would like to spend my time relating to transit on bus service and park-and-ride lots for the moment. Speaking of park-and-ride lots, I received a letter from Metro Transit responding to an inquiry regarding lots in Lino Lakes. Metro Transit is trying to build a parking structure at 95th Avenue and 35W (in Blaine) where there is an existing (and full) parking lot of 1,000 spaces. The construction would be from September 2008 to September 2009. A temporary park-and-ride for 200 spaces would be required during construction, and that location could be at the proposed Lino Lakes library site at Highway 23 and 35W in Lino Lakes. Metro Transit also wrote that a park-and-ride for 200 spaces could be possible at the northwest corner of 35E and Highway 14 in Lino Lakes as plans for that intersection develop in early 2008.

On Wednesday, November 28th, I attended a Local Government Officials Meeting for Anoka County in Ham Lake. Anoka County staff presented a draft legislative package. (The 2007 version is on-line and it is very similar.) The most interesting presentation was given by Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah, who spoke on Anoka County Human Services. The presentation gave the facts about what we might otherwise call "welfare" and the myths that are out there about it. Here are some factoids I picked up:

* A breakdown of benefits issued by the county in 2006 for public assistance included 89% ($268,818,008) for health care (especially nursing homes, Medicare), five percent for food assistance ($13,805,648) , and six percent ($17,888,007) for cash assistance. These are state and federal dollars and the county only pays for staff to administer the benefits.
* The average costs for nursing home care are about $3,500 to $6,500 per month.
* 70% of people on MFIP (Minnesota Family Investment Program, a cash program for families with children) in Anoka County have only been on public assistance for less than two years. The cash benefit is $532 per month and $378 for food stamps per month.
* 69% of MFIP recipients are children.
* The average monthly caseload for the County for MFIP is 1,798.

After viewing the Star Tribune's web site on the 35W bridge collapse, I found that there were three of my constituents on that bridge, including one who was killed. I was pleased that the Governor announced some temporary relief for survivors but I was distressed that it took so long for him to take action. The temporary assistance comes from an existing tort claims fund. It looks like Senator Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) and Rep. Dennis Ozment (R-Rosemount) worked with the Governor after the 9/11 fund special master spoke on this issue a few weeks ago.

Visitors: On November 27th I met with a House researcher, MPCA staffers, and another House member on some recycling initiatives.

Constituent contacts: district resident about my bill on scrap metal theft because his company provides alarm systems for construction sites, which have been targets for thieves (the company is RSI Alarm, based in White Bear Lake, and it sells globally); Circle Pines resident about property tax assessments; Shoreview resident about special education and transportation policy; Shoreview resident about MN Board of Medical Practice issue; Circle Pines resident about MnDOT rules about audible pedestian signals for blind pedestrians; Lino Lakes resident about environmental issues; Shoreview resident about health care premium increases and the precariousness of coverage and supporting transit; Shoreview resident supporting fewer mandates and increased competition in health care