Pawlenty announces plans to better state

Program revisions aim to make health care and higher education more accessible to public.

by Courtney Blanchard

At the State of the State address Wednesday, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the state of Minnesota is “great,” but could be better through healthcare, energy policy and education reforms.

Faced with a DFL-dominated legislature, the Republican governor offered several “compromises” on past policies by proposing MinnesotaCare II and ACHIEVE II.

Pawlenty focused on policies that would reward both grade schools and higher education institutions with performance-based funds and improved technology.

“Too many of our high school students are engaged in academic loitering for much of their high school career,” he said.

The revamped ACHIEVE II program, instead of offering top-performing students free tuition to Minnesota schools, would make tuition for one year available to students who take a year of college coursework during high school.

While the University works on its strategic positioning plan, the governor proposed offering $50 million in “performance bonuses for higher education institutions that achieve clearly defined strategic goals.”

Pawlenty also raved about the technology available to students and stressed that in an age where iPods and Sidekicks absorb all the time of young people, classrooms should adapt to that style of learning.

“Our primary method of instruction is to have adults with dry erase markers lecture to frequently bored students who carry home backpacks so full of paper they look like they could be training to join Will Steger on an Arctic expedition,” he said.

Although education was a major issue in the speech, Pawlenty also focused on health care reform. He called for extending health care coverage to all people under 21 with a household income of less than $60,000 per year.

The governor also said he wanted to expand coverage not through a single-payer system, but through applying market approaches to public programs. MinnesotaCare II would offer more choice and competition than the current model, he said.

Pawlenty praised Minnesota for its efforts on developing and using renewable energy and urged the state to continue.

“I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to pass and sign comprehensive and historic energy legislation this session,” he said.

DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who represents the University, said if the Legislature carries out the programs in the governor’s speech, the state would be better positioned.

However, Kahn said she was critical of Pawlenty’s speech because he didn’t explain how to pay for the programs he introduced.

“I get very wary of large numbers of promises calling out for reforms and no indication (of how) we’re to pay for it,” she said.

Political science junior David Liebow, University DFL treasurer, asked, “Why can’t he keep the college cost down for everybody?” when Pawlenty is able to fund ACHIEVE II.

“I don’t believe that there should just be an elite group that is able to go to college. I believe that everyone should be able to go to college,” Liebow said.

Calls to College Republicans and Students for a Conservative Voice were not immediately returned.

-Justin Horwath contributed to this report.