Senator visits Cloquet High School studentsSenator Tony Lourey – who begins his third term in January – spent two hours with a classroom of Cloquet High School seniors last Friday.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Michael Papas may not see eye-to-eye with Minnesota Sen. Tony Lourey on every issue, but the Cloquet High School senior said it was refreshing to hear from a politician who is knowledgeable on the issues and willing to work with members of both parties.
The fact that Lourey is from this area was another bonus.
“You see federal politicians on the news and they’re more like celebrities, or deities,” Papas said. “It was nice to be able to ask someone questions about very important topics that affect your daily life instead of just hearing it on the daily news.”
Lourey – who begins his third term in January – spent two hours with a classroom of Cloquet High School seniors last Friday. The first hour the senator largely focused on healthcare issues – Lourey returns to the Minnesota Senate as the powerful chair of the Health and Human Services committee – and the second hour he and the students covered a range of topics, from the ongoing flood recovery efforts to the Sappi conversion to the ongoing state budget struggles.
Here’s what Lourey had to say:
+ On Sappi: He praised the Sappi conversion and the sale of chemical cellulose [rather than “dirty” cotton] for clothing. “Getting to a woody product that doesn’t take any chemicals to grow and grows where crops aren’t viable, is a huge advancement,” he said.
+ On the proposed Iron Range copper mines: “We need to make sure we approach it carefully. It’s never been done in a way that wasn’t [destructive to the environment]. They say they have a new way. I know the approval is taking a long time, but often when you’re working with new technology, it takes a long time. And we need to make sure the science is good, that we have financial assurances, infrastructure and make sure that what is left behind isn’t disastrous for future generations.”
+ On the state’s continuing budget deficit: “In my view, we have two problems with the tax system in Minnesota. One, it’s incredibly volatile because it’s heavily reliant on income tax. When the economy is good, we have more money than we need. As soon as the economy takes the slightest tick down and the needs go up, we’re in trouble.
“Two, the current [tax] structure is increasingly regressive. Cuts to LGA (Local Government Aid) and schools have led to increased property taxes on citizens. Property taxes aren’t based on income or ability to pay. They are based on something people might have inherited, or borrowed too much money to buy. …There are better tax structures to approach the 21st century.”
Lourey also talked about the increasing cost of a college education, a subject dear to the hearts of many in the class who will graduate at the end of the school year.
“One of our main goals as a society is to make sure that the next generations are equipped for the challenges,” Lourey said, noting that higher education is getting less state funding support now than any time since 1999 while students have seen tuition costs go up more than 100 percent over the same time frame.
The cost of college is certainly on Papas’ mind. Already a member of the Navy’s Sea Cadet program, Papas plans to enter the Army Reserve after he graduates in part so the military will help pay for his college education.
“If I don’t get into the Army, I probably won’t go to college,” said Papas, who wants to study engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “It’s that or $100,000 in debt.”
Lourey was adamant about the need to make education accessible for Minnesotans, because they are the ones who start businesses here.
“The people most likely to locate in northern Minnesota are the people who grew up here and understand what we have to offer,” he said. “Minnesota consistently has more Fortune 500 companies, more millionaires per capita than any other state. It’s because of our tradition of investing in education … and our farm tradition,” added the man who was raised on a farm. “Our innovators are the farm kids who grew up figuring out how to make things work. We need to make sure we invest in education.”
Cloquet High School government and social studies teacher Tim Prosen said his students were impressed with Lourey’s intelligence, wit and how dynamic he is.
“Here’s a guy who’s a farmer, state senator and a lawyer, who deals with state statutes and then deals with cows at night,” Prosen said. “I think he’s more able to relate to our kids than some politicians. And with the healthcare committee post, he has tremendous influence.