Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials
Winona Daily News, Feb. 12
What is Red Wing's mayor thinking?
As Winona County continues to trudge through the frac sand debate and every associated issue, we should be thankful at least for this:
Our elected officials haven't done anything nearly as stupid as the ones north of here.
Red Wing mayor Dennis Egan was recently hired to lead a lobbying group for the frac sand industry. He doesn't think it's a conflict of interest to be the mayor of a town that has dealt with and will continue to deal with the processing, trucking, shipping and other businesses leaping at the chance to handle the dusty gold companies are digging out of southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin mines.
Clearly he doesn't think much at all.
Even if he chooses not to vote on a single issue or permit related to frac sand, he's still nothing more than a lobbyist lawmaker_which should be an oxymoron.
We never thought we'd be in a position to praise our elected officials for steering clear of frac sand interests.
But then again, it has proved impossible to define just how alluring a boom industry can be to people responsible for regulating it. In Buffalo County, for example, the long-time zoning administrator turned in his resignation and signed on with a frac sand development company not long after companies began crossing the county line. Without his leadership, the county is still struggling to figure out how to deal with the industry.
The debate is far from over. There are still plenty of rumors to debunk, plenty of good science to shine a light on, plenty of studying and discussing left to do on real issues.
So we should be thankful we have some good people in place leading us through it. The city of Winona and Winona County have reasonable and thoughtful people working hard to figure out how to stay on top and in front of the sandstorm.
Two in particular who deserve credit are Jason Gilman, the county's planning and environmental services director, and Winona assistant city planner Carlos Espinosa.
Espinosa guided the city through a yearlong process to write a comprehensive plan for regulating and permitting all areas of the industry. Gilman, we imagine, is swamped at this very moment reading comments on environmental reviews for two proposed mines — and figuring out whether the county will need to lead a longer and exhaustive review of Saratoga Township.
And we should be thankful, too, that our elected officials understand the difference between lobbying and lawmaking.
The Free Press of Mankato, Feb. 7
State pension deficiencies need attention
The $16 billion unfunded liability in state public employee pension funds seems daunting enough but apparently brings little sense of fiscal urgency to those who can fix it.
That figure is approximately what it costs to run the entire state for a year.
The shortfall is the difference between what has been promised public employees as pension benefits and what is available to pay for those benefits. Most of the experts know the causes of the unfunded liabilities and they know the solutions for bringing these funds into balance, but political leaders seem unwilling to address either. Worse, some don't see it as a major problem even though the gap has doubled since 2006.
Larry Martin, executive director of Minnesota's Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement, sees the problem. He told the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Is there a need for concern? Yes. We're departing -- significantly -- from what we think we ought to be doing."
Some 11 of the 12 public pension plans that remain open to new members are not taking in enough money to pay benefits promised.
The plans vary in the level of funding from a low of 60 percent funded for the St. Paul teacher's pension to about a 90 percent funding for the corrections employees fund. Many of the pensions had been fully funded in 2000.
The problems stem from payments into the funds that aren't sufficient to pay benefits and faulty assumptions about investment returns. At varying times, fund managers estimated returns in the 8 percent range, but when the Great Recession hit, returns were far, far below that. In fiscal year 2012, the investment return was just 2.4 percent.