Mesabi Daily News, July 26
Wolf hunting season done right
The Department of Natural Resources and the Legislature take plenty of critical hits from the public — some of them quite well deserved.
But when it comes to the wolf hunt season — they deserve praise — for different but equally important reasons.
The DNR has been managing the wolf hunting season very well. The third one was announced this week.
The wolf population has actually increased since the first season. And now, so, too, has the number of licenses made available for the hunt.
That's called good management of a species that had once been endangered.
Minnesota's wolf legacy is unique, according to the DNR. The northeastern corner of lakes and sub-boreal forest was once home to the last remaining wild wolves in the lower 48 states.
Management under the Endangered Species Act allowed those remaining wolves to flourish and repopulate northern Wisconsin and Michigan's upper peninsula.
But wolves are not cuddly pets. They are wild predators for which a hunting season just makes sense after the species was nursed back and off of the Endangered Species list.
And so we applaud the Legislature for not giving in to anti-wolf hunting groups and individuals that want the hunting season suspended — which translates to ENDED. We especially congratulate DFL Rep. David Dill of Crane Lake for standing tall on this issue in the state House.
Bottom line: The wolf population is being managed well with a regular hunting season.
Star Tribune of Minneapolis, July 31
Timing is right for Minnesota's minimum wage hike
This is pay raise day for thousands of Minnesotans. Today, after nine years in the $6.15-an-hour cellar, the state minimum wage moves ahead of the federal $7.25 level to $8, the first step on a road to $9.50 for most employers on Aug. 1, 2016, and automatic inflationary adjustments starting in 2018.
Those subsequent steps (see accompanying chart) come fast and steep, and could bring hardship to some employers and industries. Economists should closely monitor the impact of the higher minimums, and state elected officials should be prepared to make adjustments if negative consequences appear.
But today's modest first step on that ladder should generate few misgivings. Now, as Minnesota is bouncing back impressively from a mean recession and the state unemployment rate is down to a respectable 4.5 percent, is the right time for government to ensure that the lowest-wage workers share in the benefits of a reviving economy.
As MoneyRates.com noted recently as it rated Minnesota the third-best state in the nation in which to make a living, this state's cost of living and tax burden are higher than the average among the 50 states. Most Minnesotans earn "more than enough to make up for these disadvantages," it said.
Not so, however, for the Minnesotans at the bottom of the wage scale. Nor does it seem likely that without a state push, labor market forces alone would be enough to boost those workers closer to self-sufficiency. A state that prizes work as highly as Minnesota does is right to ensure that hourly work brings decent rewards, and that those who work need not rely on the taxpayers to provide life's necessities.
At $8, the new floor may be "one of the highest minimum wages in the nation," as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said in a release last week. But 12 other states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages at least as high, and those are states that compare favorably and compete strongly with Minnesota for investment and human capital. Six other states aren't far behind, with minimums between $7.75 and $8. Today's move does not make Minnesota a wage outlier.
Initially, it's a move that will affect only a sliver of the state's workforce. As of last year's state estimate, only 83,000 of the state's hourly workforce of 1.57 million was paid the minimum wage or less. But an estimated 370,000 Minnesota hourly workers are paid less than $10.10 an hour. They won't all see a pay raise this summer, but the bulk of them will by the time the new law is fully implemented in 2018.
It's well for Minnesotans to remember who those workers are. A report released Wednesday by the National Women's Law Center points out that in Minnesota, 68 percent of workers paid less than $10.10 an hour are female, even though women comprise just 48 percent of the state's total workforce. Among low-wage women nationally, half work full time, a third are mothers, more than a third live in households with incomes of less than $25,000 a year and a quarter of them are age 50 or older. They are also disproportionately people of color.
Those numbers paint a picture that defies the stereotype of the minimum-wage worker as teenager with few financial responsibilities. About those teenagers trying to establish a work record: The new state law allows for a youth wage rate of at least $6.50 per hour for employees younger than 18 who are not covered by the federal $7.25 minimum. That feature should mute critics who contend that high minimum wages deprive young workers of career-starting employment opportunities.
It stands to reason that the National Women's Law Center's leading policy recommendation in its new report is a federal minimum wage increase. We like to think that by joining the states that have leapfrogged ahead of the federal wage floor, Minnesota's move today will hasten a federal move in the same direction.
New Ulm Journal, July 30
Set deadline for VA improvements
Six months. That is how long Congress should give Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson to make progress in providing better health care service for veterans. In the meantime, his request for an additional $17.6 billion should be tabled — mostly.
With other headlines claiming attention, some Americans may have forgotten about the VA's unacceptable lapses -some intentional - in helping veterans. But hundreds of thousands of veterans who need medical care from the VA have not forgotten.
In all likelihood, they also have noticed a gigantic missing link in the VA's proposals for reform.
Some VA managers placed veterans on months-long waiting lists for care, then lied about doing so. What is being done about them? And why should Congress hand them billions of dollars more?
Lawmakers should grant part of Sloan's request, however. It is for money to pay private health care providers to give veterans the care the VA would not.
Then Congress should give Sloan six months to demonstrate improvement — including firing and possibly prosecuting VA managers who shortchanged veterans and lied about it. Only then should there be discussion of additional funding.