Top priority: If elected, what is your top priority for the 2016 Legislature? Why are you running for office?

There were many things unfinished in the past two legislative sessions, my top priority for Otter Tail County is to complete the work that ended in what editorials across the state called “chaos.”  Partisanship is at an all-time high and it needs to end. The largest responsibility of the legislature in tax, bonding and transportation bills,

CJ Holl
CJ Holl

didn’t get done. With 1,070 miles of roads, 50% of which are “poor or very poor” Otter Tail county needs a transportation bill.  Because of the partisan gridlock, needed projects such as the Pelican dam, funding for MState Fergus Falls and the Kirkbride among others, fell to the wayside.  Property tax relief via a tax bill also was left incomplete.  I am running to bring a new, fresh, cooperative can-do attitude.  I am a business owner and have a 10 year record of getting things done, which I’ll carry forward as a legislator.

Gridlock: The 2016 Legislature adjourned without addressing key items – taxes, transportation and bonding bills. As of this writing, leadership could not agree on an agenda for a special session. Partisan gridlock is a recurring theme. What specific measures do you support to increase the transparency and reduce the gridlock of the lawmaking process?

For anyone that watched the final minutes of the past two legislative sessions, it was a study in bad government.  Legislators talking over each other, some slumped over desks, rushed, late night, mistake laden, billion dollar bills being considered without review in literally the final moments. I support the idea that has been suggested that there be a 24 or 48 hour period for legislative consideration. Legislators should have the opportunity to review bills.  The final day should not be filled with new pork barrel or omnibus bills, but rather ratifying or rejecting those bills under consideration.

Budget: The tax-and-spend debate is at the core of setting the state budget. What is your formula in terms of tax and spending policies to strengthen the state’s economy? Be specific in which personal and/or business taxes you would increase or decrease.

Of course, the past several years have seen a surplus in revenues.  The Minnesota economy had been healthy. Prior to the past two sessions, there was a budget deficit. Things do cycle and it’s important to have a long term view.  With the surplus, some funds get automatically set aside, but like when you personally have extra cash, you may choose to do needed maintenance.  You might get new tires for the car or have the house painted.  The state should have the same philosophy.  Save some, look to the future and use funds to get ahead in other areas.  Transportation needs not just stopgap funding from the surplus, but a long term plan.  I support additional investments in education for both K-12 and higher education for both infrastructure, early childhood and by formula.  We also need additional investment in broadband infrastructure.  We have done some, but even our neighbors in Iowa and Wisconsin are ahead of us.  Broadband is what will make our state and especially our rural communities competitive into the future. On the tax relief side, 2016 saw the highest property taxes in Minnesota’s 158 year history.  Part of the issue is legislative inaction and lack of funding have pushed local governments to enact additional levies and taxes.  Otter Tail County implemented local option sales and wheelage taxes for example.  The failed tax bill included significant tax relief for farmers.  Otter Tail county is the 7th largest ag producer (of 87 counties) and the tax relief would go a long way toward supporting what is our #1 business in the county.

Education, K-12: Statewide implementation of teacher evaluations began in 2014. Do you support legislation that would require districts to consider performance as well as seniority when deciding teacher layoffs?

I think the Minnesota Department of Education state plan approved in 2013 and started in 2014 is the right direction.  There is currently a teacher shortage in many districts.  I have always been one as an employer to positively reinforce performance and the state has that same philosophy.  The Teacher Development and Evaluation plans and the Q-Comp programs encourage teacher evaluation and more importantly, provide districts with additional funding of $260 per student for implementing a program.  There are benefits to implementing performance measurements, but all decisions regarding employment should be made locally by local school boards and administration. It is helpful for the state to provide the guidance and incentive via the TDE process, but local control needs to be maintained by those closest to their districts.

Education, higher ed: Many employers remain frustrated in their ability to find qualified workers for the available jobs. What role does higher ed play in addressing this problem?

Higher Ed is a critical partner in finding and training workers for the future. We need to invest now in infrastructure and technology to enhance our four year and technical colleges. Because of lack of funding, colleges are cutting programs such as auto mechanics, auto body and even nursing programs.  Accounting for inflation, we are funding higher ed at a 1986 level.  In an age of iPads, we have to quit funding our schools at Atari levels. We cannot continue to throw pennies at problems and expect great results. We cannot continue to starve education in Minnesota.  The average student in Minnesota graduates with $40,000 in college debt, one of the highest in the nation.  We need to assist students in bringing that down as an incentive to complete additional schooling.  I was on the Business and Entrepreneurial Services board at MState in Detroit Lakes.  There, they have a Custom Training program that works hand in hand with local businesses and manufacturers to tailor the training to their needs.  They bring the college classes out to outlying communities and businesses.  I recently attended a meeting in St. Paul where a state demographer looked at Otter Tail county.  While the population will grow over the next 10-20 years, the number of workers will decrease, mostly due to retiring baby boomers and worker outmigration. By 2030, there is projected to be an 8,000 job gap.  We need to work now to change that.

Health care: MNsure, the state’s health care exchange, has come under heavy criticism since its creation. Is it serving its purpose? Do you advocate any changes, or should it remain as is?

It should be changed.  While premiums are going up, it needs to be noted that MNsure only provides insurance for 5% of Minnesotans.  The rest are either on employer programs or other government programs, the bulk (70%+) being employer programs.  It is serving its purpose in that the number of uninsured has dropped to historic lows – 4% in Minnesota.  It’s a given everyone should have health insurance.  Also, while many point to the premiums going up, MNsure recipients also receive tax breaks. For example, a single person who makes $30,000 will see a significant increase in premium on an individual plan, but when the rebate is factored in, their overall cost will go down $8 per month.  However, much has to be done to reduce the volatility in premiums. The out of pocket monthly expense is what needs to be focused on as you can’t spend a tax credit.  Insurance companies have to be encouraged and incentivized for participation and choice has to be increased to drive down overall cost.

Jobs benefit: Should the state mandate paid family leave? If so, should all sizes of employers have to comply, and how should a program be financed?

Paid family leave is probably coming on the state and national level.  I support it.  We are behind the times nationally when it comes to this.  I expect there will be exclusions for employer size as there has been in the past for the state minimum wage.  Length of employment will also probably be considered.  I am a business owner myself and realize the cost side of paid family leave.  However, happy employees – ones who are able to have some time off for say the birth of a child without the financial pressure of taking unpaid time off – are ultimately better employees.  The state can assist with tax credits for employers that provide the benefit.

Transportation: What will it take to pass a comprehensive funding for roads, bridges and transit? What sources of revenue should be raised for what specific programs? Or is current funding sufficient?

I think all options should be on the table.  However, there has to be a long term view of funding sources.  The same battles shouldn’t be replayed every two or four years.  A mechanism needs to be in place to provide sustainable funding.  The transportation planning process is not a start/stop process and looks out many years in the future.  We can’t rebuild 100 miles of road in one year, in a hurry of funding, and then do nothing for four years.  I do not think dedicating specific revenue sources (e.g. auto parts) is practical.  Not only do you have to then set up another layer of government to maintain, track and collect that, a single market carve-out is too volatile to provide sustained funding into the future.  Also, dedicating those funds, leaves a funding hole from where you take it from. Legislators are hired to decide where to spend the money, get the job done. I do believe that a gas tax is the absolute fairest way to enhance long term revenue for transportation. In rural Minnesota and Otter Tail county, we actually get back more revenue via a gas tax than we put in.  For every $5 of gas tax, we get back $7 of benefit.  Some have advocated higher license fees and no gas tax.  I am opposed to that, as doubling the license fees hurts our seniors and those on fixed incomes more than a gas tax. For example, a senior who drives to church, locally to the grocery store may only drive 6,000 miles in a year (avg is 13,476 in MN).  A 5% gas tax would be approximately $38 per year, and less with less miles driven. Tab fees are based on vehicle value.  A $15,000 car would have a $198 annual fee.  Doubling that would be more expensive to a senior than the gas tax.  I think that a mix of fees, gas tax and surplus revenues will ultimately go toward transportation funding.

Energy: Should Minnesota increase its renewable energy mandates on utilities, or is current law sufficient?

Minnesota has been increasingly involved in renewable energy.  There are wind farms in the area and Lake Region Electric and others have solar farms that have been quite successful.  In fact, the recent additional LREC panels sold out as fast as they were built.  People are interested and want renewable energy.  As the technology catches up with demand, the state’s role has been to ask for and support additional investment.  There has to be a measured approach.  The solar panels of today are dramatically more efficient than those of a decade ago and ten years from now, the technology will afford more renewable usage.

Public notices: Should the state go back to publishing newspaper ads with the list of Minnesotans who have unclaimed property and funds being held by the state? Widespread readership of these notices was eliminated by the Legislature in 2005 when the publication requirement for the list of names was removed. Since then, the unclaimed property fund has grown three-fold to more than half a billion dollars owed to Minnesotans. 

Some local government bodies continue to push for eliminating public notices from newspapers and moving them to government websites, even though independent research continues to show that far more people see the notices when they’re published in newspapers and on newspaper websites, and that removing them from newspapers would in fact save very little money. What’s your view on permitting important public notices to be disseminated only by local government bodies by means of their own websites?

I think the decision of where to publish notices should be done locally.  In Pelican Rapids, the city council meeting minutes are published in the local paper.  That is not the case in many communities.  They may be only available online.  I think getting information out via as many channels as possible is good.  The more the public is informed the better.

Elections: Do you support moving the primary election from August to June in an effort to increase voter turnout?

Minnesota has historically been one of the leaders in voter turnout – nearing 80% in some years.  The previous legislature approved the switch from the presidential caucus system to a primary system which will be implemented in 2020.  I think the best approach is to see what the impact of that is before moving the primary elections.  I do not think June primaries will significantly increase voter turnout.  Just knowing the interest as I have been out talking to people, they get engaged later so having a June primary wouldn’t increase turnout. Summer in Minnesota – who is thinking about voting?  We’re thinking about boating.

Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications. 

I live in Pelican Rapids with my wife Bridgette, who is a 24 year teacher. She teaches Spanish at the Pelican Rapids high school. We have two daughters, Lily (12) and Daisy (9).  I have a BS Degree from the University of Mary in Bismarck in Business Management and am finishing a Master degree in Public Administration.  Professionally, I spent 12 years with Cardinal Health in operations, marketing and sales. The last seven of those years, I specialized in OR technology and worked with surgeons, staff and administrators all over the Dakota’s and Minnesota.  The past 13 years, I have owned my own businesses – Subway restaurants.  We owned the MN stores in Ada, Hawley and Barnesville, starting each of those.  We also own five stores in SD.  Civically, I have been an elected official in Hawley and Pelican Rapids, on the city councils.  I have also served on and lead several EDA’s and county committees.  I like to see things done and have been especially good at economic development.  My background and business acumen have served me well helping my communities. They would make me a skilled, effective legislator.