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Ted Mondale: Economic Development
By Martin Kaste
August 24, 1998

Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
Part of Election '98

TED MONDALE IS A MEMBER IN GOOD STANDING of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and, as such, he often sounds positively Republican. This is especially true on economic themes: he believes in slimming down government and cutting taxes, and he thinks government should be in the business of helping business. On the other hand, he says some pro-business tax breaks are wasteful - and he says even business leaders have told him they don't need the help.

Mondale: If the businesses don't want them, why are we giving it to them? So I think we need to prioritze where we need to go.
As an example of economic development run amok, Mondale points to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts - special zones where cities let companies use their own property taxes to develop their businesses. Mondale says the TIF idea is appropriate for some economically-depressed areas, but most businesses don't need the tax-break.

Mondale: It shouldn't be used for Burger Kings, it shouldn't be used for things that are already going to happen and the market's already going to drive. It should be used for re-development of decaying areas on existing infrastructure, to help these areas rebuild and stay market-competitive.

Mondale says the emphasis on TIF districts and economic development zones does nothing to solve the most urgent need in Minnesota's economy: skilled workers. Rural Minnesota has been experiencing an especially acute labor shortage lately, and Mondale says the statewide economy won't stay healthy unless the problem is fixed.
Mondale: The business community - everyone - is not looking for a new building to be built. They're looking for a supply of workers able to do the task, and workers are saying, "Hey! I need the skills to do a better job."
Minnesota does not suffer from a lack of job-training programs - Mondale says he's counted 140 programs in the Twin Cities alone. But he says these programs tend to be too basic - usually training workers for what he calls "short-term fix" jobs. He says businesses should be able to tap into a state fund to give their workers whatever advanced training they believe would be most useful.

Mondale's worker-training plans get even more ambitious. He says a college education is what the Minnesota workers really need, and he says the state should pay the college tuition of every Minnesotan who graduates from high school with at least a B average. Mondale says the scholarships would be capped at state-school levels, but the program would still cost a lot: he estimates $90 million a year once the program gets going.

When it comes to the most controversial of economic development issues - public money for sports stadiums - Mondale says he's not interested. He says the arguments for subsidized sports stadiums are perfect examples of what considers out-dated thinking.

Mondale: Old economic-development theory was to build brick and mortar and then great things will happen. The old theory was we're a cold Omaha, unless we have a sports team; no one will want to come here. They came here! We have all this great economic activity - the economy's great. That's gonna go away unless we improve the skills of our workers. That's what's gonna build it. If we can grow the economy and there's all this revenue, then pro sports can exist here.
Governor Carlson has named another blue-ribbon commission to consider ways to pay for new sports stadiums, and he's indicated he'd like a plan in hand this fall. But Mondale says if he's elected governor, he'll be in no rush to tackle the issue; in fact, he's promising to declare a one-year moratorium on any discussions of the subject.