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2022 election, decision 2022, steele county, owatonna
Candidates: How to handle wage disparity
Kay Fate, Staff Writer

In an effort to keep you, our readers, well-informed and abreast of relevant issues, today is the 13th in a series of questions we are asking all of Steele County’s candidates for state office.

We want voters to know where each candidate stands on the issues in order to make their best decision at the ballot box.

Each week, we’ll ask the candidates a new question. They will all receive the same question, be given a word limit and a deadline of four days to answer. We’ll publish their answers the following Wednesday; responses may be edited for length.

The series will continue through Nov. 2, the last Wednesday before the Nov. 8 general election.

If a candidate doesn’t respond, we’ll note that.

This week, we’re asking about minimum wage and living wages in Minnesota:

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is required to determine the inflation-adjusted minimum wage rate every year by Aug. 31. It just did that, using a 2.5% change in the price index. That means that in January 2023, the minimum wage in Minnesota will be $10.59 per hour for large businesses (any enterprise with annual gross revenues of $500,000 or more) and $8.63 per hour for small businesses (any enterprise with annual gross revenues of less than $500,000). The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul set their own higher rates of pay.

Using the state’s own cost of living chart, in 2021 a single adult in Steele County, age 18-50, with no children, must work full-time at $13.07 per hour to pay for food, health care, housing, transportation and taxes.

How do you explain the state’s disparity in those two numbers – and do you have any ideas that could change those numbers? The limit was 250 words.

We advise you to ignore the R or DFL behind each name and reflect only on the answers. You might be surprised to find more common ground than you expected. An (i) indicates the incumbent candidate, though with this spring’s redistricting, the district numbers may not align with the seat they’re seeking.


Question of the Week:

How do you explain the disparity in the state’s minimum wage and the hourly wage required to cover basic cost of living expenses – and you have any ideas that could change those numbers?  


Minnesota House District 19B

Abdulahi Ali Osman – DFL, of Owatonna:

No response.

John Petersburg – R (i-24A), of Waseca:

I don't believe there is any disparity in these numbers as these are two completely different things. The minimum wage rate is meant to be a floor for what employers can pay their employees. Somehow, we as a society have redefined minimum wage to mean the level to which we can live on. In my opinion, all wages are a reflection of the value of the job being performed, not whether it is a living wage or not. Most beginning jobs are for first time employees or second jobs. To help them get experience and the skills necessary to advance. They are usually low skilled jobs requiring less experience. 

However, the cost-of-living rate is dependent upon each individuals' decisions of what they need to live on. The state computes the state average, but it is certainly dependent upon where you live and what expenses you might have. Some may live on less and some more. This question does raise the important issue on what the state can do to help those in a low skilled minimum wage job to one that will raise their income to that cost-of-living level. This will require education and skill enhancements available through programs that may include DEED and other local agencies. It will also need to include a way to transition individuals out of government programs and into self-dependent living.


Minnesota House District 23A

Peggy Bennett – R (i-27A), of Albert Lea:

We all want people to have the opportunity for good paying jobs so they can take care of themselves and their families. 

Virtually no one is making minimum wage in Minnesota right now. Drive down the street in any of our local communities and you will see help wanted signs in the windows of almost any business. Desperate employers are offering hefty sign-on bonuses and many times over double the minimum wage to attract workers. Even an entry level job at McDonalds is paying over $14.00 an hour.

The real wage issue now is that pay increases are being gobbled up by skyrocketing inflation driven by poor government choices and reckless government spending.

Instead of focusing on minimum wage, we should focus on providing opportunities for people to get the education they need for good paying jobs and on helping workers keep more of their earnings in their own pockets so they can provide for themselves and their families.

How can we do this? First, work on reforming post-secondary education – make it more affordable, accountable, and cost-effective; align course offerings to better match current workforce needs; and create incentives to get workers trained in the skills where the good paying jobs are.

Secondly, Minnesota is one of the highest taxed states in the nation. Let’s reduce workers’ taxes. Instead of government taking more of their wages to “help them,” let’s allow workers keep more of their own pay so they can take care of themselves as they see fit.

Mary Hinnenkamp – DFL, of Albert Lea:

It was a hard-fought battle in 2014 to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage. My DFL Party lead the effort to increase the minimum wage to its present level and indexed it to inflation. But the minimum wage is not nearly enough to live on, let alone raise a family on.

I support a living wage salary for all Minnesota workers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculated that the living wage for a single person in Steele County would be $15.64 an hour, $31.06 for an adult with one child. (

Solutions? Increase the minimum wage. Many full-time employees must rely on federally-funded health care and food subsidy programs to survive. This is unacceptable. Make it easier to form and join a union so that workers can collectively bargain for better wages. Provide universal health care coverage so that one medical crisis does not drain resources or bankrupt an individual or family. Spend some of Minnesota’s projected $9 billion surplus providing access to affordable daycare and early childhood education, a major cost for young families.

Top earners pay far less on taxes on their income than they did 50 years ago. Raise taxes on the wealthy to strengthen schools and programs that build a strong middle class.

Senator Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.” Our country does better when we all have opportunity for success and no one is left behind. If elected, I would be in the fight for the working families in this district.


Minnesota House District 23B

Patricia Mueller – R (i-27B), of Austin:

The minimum wage was established in 1938. The .25 an hour wage is about $4.81 in 2022 dollars. It was meant as a floor and was enacted when welfare benefits for needs like housing, food, and healthcare were nearly non-existent. On January 1, 2023, Minnesota’s minimum wage will be $10.59 an hour for large employers and $8.63 for others. Both rates exceed the $7.25 federal wage. Because of workforce shortages, many employers are offering much higher wages to compete for the limited workforce. This wage increase was the result of inflation and other market demands. After COVID-19, many people left the workforce or retired early. We do not have enough workforce participation to replace those who left. So, employers responded by increasing wages and offering signing bonuses.

But when the government artificially regulates wages, such increases are borne by the consumers in the form of higher prices and employee layoffs. According to the Congressional Budget Office (July 2019) raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would conservatively result in 1.3 million people losing their jobs.

I propose reasonable state budgets that refocus our priorities to provide education that increases skill sets for our young people to achieve high-paying careers. We must focus on safe streets and vibrant economic centers to keep employers here and to entice others to bring good jobs to Minnesota. Finally, we need to permanently cut taxes so families may decide how to better spend their hard-earned pay.

Tom Stiehm – DFL, of Austin:

The minimum wage in Minnesota is not a livable or realistic wage. I support a raise in the minimum wage to much closer to 15 dollars an hour.

We know our economy is going good right now, but lower wage workers are not benefiting from it. It seems like most of the advertised jobs pay about 15 dollars now, and still have trouble filling their positions.

Our minimum wage is outdated, and in this time of hyper-inflation, the minimum wage is not realistic.


Minnesota Senate District 19

Kate Falvey – DFL, of Faribault:

No response.

John Jasinksi – R (i-24), of Faribault:

This is one of the top two most frequent issues I hear about when I am door-knocking or meeting people around the district. State statute caps minimum wage increases at 2.5% to shield employers from taking mandatory sharp payroll increases that may put them out of business, but with inflation at 8 or 9%, minimum wage workers – and really workers at all pay levels – are feeling intense cost of living pressures right now.

Inflation is crushing families everywhere. Food prices are rising faster than they have in more than 40 years. Gas prices remain far above what they were a year ago. The cost of daily life is increasingly unaffordable for the working folks who are the backbone of this state.

The Republican priority has always been providing permanent, ongoing tax relief to middle-class Minnesotans. The kind of real tax cuts that make every single paycheck bigger, week after week, month after month, year after year. Last session the Senate passed the largest tax cut in state history. It completely eliminated the double-tax on Social Security benefits and provided a tax cut to every single person who pays income taxes. It was a historic bill that would have helped millions of Minnesotans. The only reason it’s not the law today is that House Democrats and Gov. Walz wouldn’t compromise.

I can promise that returning the state’s $9 billion surplus to taxpayers in the form of real tax relief will be one of my top priorities again next session.


Minnesota Senate District 23

Gene Dornink – R (i-27), of Brownsdale:

Minnesotans are faced with record inflation rates that have not been seen in 50 years. With a shortage of workers, business owners have been increasing wages to recruit new employees to fill vacancies. In fact, most employers are paying their employees well above minimum wage. It’s important to remember minimum wage jobs are stepping stones. Let us remember the words of past Presidents; It’s the economy!

When the government steps in with mandates, forcing businesses to increase their wages, it contributes to the worsening inflation many Minnesotans are struggling with. It causes increased costs to business owners, which are passed on to the consumer. It disproportionally impacts small business owners and prices out lower income shoppers, making the ‘raise’ useless. Some businesses will be forced to shut their doors and others will find ways to cut cost by using technology to eliminate jobs.

It is the government’s responsibility to ensure Minnesotans are protected from unfair practices and the market place is fair. Government cannot place a one-size fits all mandate across the state. The Metro has different problems that need different solutions than Greater Minnesota. We are in concerning times when politicians think they know better than small business owners. I will continue to work with our community to ensure that every person can live and prosper here in Minnesota.

Brandon Lawhead – DFL, of Austin:

No response.


Next week’s question:

The League of Minnesota Cities is one of just multiple entities that felt slighted after the 2022 Session adjourned – in fact, last month, leaders of 17 local government agencies called on state lawmakers to convene a special session, urging action on “issues that need attention now and should not wait until 2023.” They refer to the state’s $9.2 billion budget surplus, saying it “provides an unprecedented opportunity for Minnesota to address … immediate and critical needs.”

Cities are historically dissatisfied with the amount of LGA funding they receive, but the 2022 allocation seems to have stung a bit more.

What would you say to the leaders of Steele County cities who believe this is the time to invest more money in LGA? There is a 250-word limit.

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