Michelle Benson*, MN Senate 31

Michelle Benson*
Website: http://www.michellebensonsenatemn.com
Age: 44
Family: Craig is my husband of 21 years. We have 3 children.
Occupation: Education
University of St. Thomas, MBA; College of St. Catherine, B.A. Chemistry. Career: Executive Director ~ Upper Midwest Security Alliance;  Auditor & Consultant ~ Deloitte & Touche 1994-1998, CPA; Board Member ~ The Way of the Shepherd Montessori School
Previous civic and community involvement: Elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2010; Committee Service: Health & Human Services, Energy, Agriculture, Government Reform & Redesign, Special Service, Minnesota Healthcare Reform Task Force and Capitol Security Commission
1. Why are you running for office?
I believe government needs to live within its means instead of asking the private sector to pay more. Government reform will be essential to preparing Minnesota to become an economic leader in the Midwest, the US, and the world. Reforms in education, energy, the tax code, and government processes will all help strengthen the private sector and grow jobs.
2. Current state budget projections, when inflation is factored in, foresee an upcoming state budget deficit. If a deficit occurs, should that be remedied solely through budget cuts? If not, what revenue generators would you support?
I do not believe we need new sources of revenue. Our State General Fund budget is slated to grow faster than inflation. I believe continuing the policy of restraining growth and reforming government, we will be able to continue vital services and keep spending in check. Focusing on growing our private economy will provide additional revenue with out raising taxes.
3. Do you favor expanding Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud, assuming ridership improves? Was the decision to establish a commuter rail line in the transportation corridor a good decision or bad one?
I am opposed to the expansion of Northstar. Both the Hiawatha and Northstar have failed to meet ridership and development projections. Taxpayers currently support the line with a $1 million per month subsidy. Our transit dollars would be better spent on a bus system that can respond to the changing needs of transit commuters.
4. In general, are public schools adequately funded in Minnesota? If not, where should additional money come from?
The last general fund budget had three key provisions: It raised funding by $650 million, started to equalize funding between school districts, and gave incentive payments for literacy achievements. I believe if we fund education while holding districts accountable for academic achievement, we can improve out comes and provide good value to the tax payer.
5. Do you support so-called Last In, First Out (LIFO) legislation that could allow school boards to call back a laid-off teacher with less seniority over another with more, if the teacher is deemed a more skillful teacher?
I support legislation that would allow districts to lay-off teachers based on performance evaluation, not just seniority. The Legislature passed, and the Governor signed a performance evaluation system for principals and teachers; however, the Governor vetoed our repeal of “LIFO” so school districts will not be able to use the new evaluation system in employment decisions
6. Do you support passage of the two proposed constitutional amendments, Photo ID and the same-sex marriage ban, currently on the ballot?
I support both the Photo ID and Marriage Protection Amendments.
7. Can lawmakers do anything to help improve the state’s economy?
Yes. Minnesota has an unfavorable tax and regulatory environment. Our cost of energy is higher than neighboring states. We can create policies to make Minnesota more competitive:
•Benchmark our permitting processes so we are competitive
•Simplify our tax code. Reduce our tax burden.
•Embrace all of the above approach to energy.
8. If you could sign three laws into effect today, what would they be?
•Repeal the ban on coal power to reduce energy costs for our families and businesses
•Full Federal tax code conformity to simplify taxes for families and business. This would also encourage businesses to invest in new capital equipment because they could take accelerated depreciation.
•Government operations streamlining based on best practices in other states.
9. What legislation would you support to reduce the number of abortions?
I support the Positive Alternatives grants that give access to crisis pregnancy services and adoption options. I support a ban on abortions for babies that can feel pain (generally 21 weeks). I support education for women about their unborn child and possible health risks.
10. The Elk River Area School District is seeking an operating levy renewal and an additional levy to in part provide for all day, every day kindergarten. Is that appropriate, or should the state provide the funding for this endeavor.
Local districts should assess then need for all day everyday Kindergarten and pre-K programs based on their population and family needs. I do not believe the state should provide the funding, nor do I think parents and children should be required to participate in all day, every day Kindergarten.
11. What energy policies are needed in the state of Minnesota?
•Repeal the coal ban – I am a co-author
•Repeal the nuclear ban – I am a co-author
•Reform CIP programs – They added $30 Million to Great River Energy’s cost to provide electric service. I was authored and passed several of these reforms, but there is more to be done.
•Allow hydroelectricity from all sources to count toward Renewable Energy Standards – Chief Author
12. What changes in health care reform would you push if elected?
Review of Minnesota’s 65 health care mandates. We have more than any other state, and we need to know if they are cost effective.
Reforms to help Medicaid patients access the lowest cost appropriate level of care to discourage use of emergency rooms for non-emergent issues.
I will continue to oppose the implementation of the ACA exchange in Minnesota.

Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce Questions

Would you describe yourself as “Pro-Business” and if yes, what makes you Pro-Business?

Yes, I grew up in a small business (family farm) and learned the importance of hard work. Entrepreneurs take great risks with no guarantee of rewards. They accept the downside of owning a company, we should let them succeed with out pushing their success. Government should not burden them with high taxes, unwieldy regulatory policies, or high energy costs. When businesses thrive, jobs are created, and our economy grows. I chief authored tax relief for family farms and small businesses. It was signed into law and takes effect this year. I am honored to have been endorsed by the Minnesota and MetroNorth Chambers. NFIB named me a “Guardian of Small Business.”

What proposal do you have to ensure effective teachers in every classroom in the State of Minnesota?

The Republican Legislature passed alternative teacher licensing and Governor Dayton sign the bill, but the Department of Education has not implemented it yet. I look forward to the program putting enthusiastic, motivated teachers in our classrooms. It has been shown to close the achievement gap in at risk schools.

The I support allowing schools to retain the most qualified teachers, not just those with the most seniority. The Legislature passed this bill, but the Governor vetoed it.

I would like to investigate the success of countries like Finland who hold teachers to the highest standard from the time they enter college, and throughout their carrier.

What policy changes would you support in higher education that will lead to an emphasis in producing people ready for work in the jobs available while also closing the skills gap?

I am working with an education expert to see if we can pilot a program that brings together interested high school students, technical colleges, and local high-tech manufactures. Many of these students can’t wait to get hands on experience, and businesses struggle to find highly skilled CAD-CAM operators, welders, etc. By matching up desire with need, we can help close the skillls gap for high tech manufacturing.

We are short skills in some 4-year degrees areas. The State could use existing grant money to provide support for students in those majors identified as filling the skills gap.

What changes to the state’s property tax system do you believe are necessary to improve its competitiveness, understandability and administration?

I would repeal the state wide business property tax. It makes us less attractive for businesses considering moving here.

Several of my colleagues proposed transparency in tax reporting so that citizens would know how much of the property tax burden is born by businesses.

Should energy rates be set to reflect the actual costs of serving a group of customers in a specific class instead of having one class of customers subsidize another?

Yes, I was Chief Author of this bill in the Senate and worked hard to get it passed; however, Governor Dayton opposes this provision and the bill did not move forward in-spite of diligent efforts. I worked with Iron Range DFL Senators, mining interests, manufacturers, and energy companies, but we were not able to get this provision passed into law.

Is funding for Highway 10 improvements a priority? Why or why not?

Yes, Funding priorities are set by the Department of Transportation, but I have sat down with department personnel to advocate for increased attention to the highway needs of the north metro, including Highway 10. The north metro legislators are working together to ensure that our roads get the attention they deserve.