Of course not. When it comes to reducing foreclosures, when your only tool is a machete, every problem looks like a jungle! In this clip from the Minnesota News Council gubernatorial debate in January you can witness Tom Emmer's response to the question - "Minnesota has experienced 76,000 foreclosures since 2006. What can state government do to address housing concerns, specifically?"
Here's his conclusion, and the extent of his substantive "solution" to the massive wave of foreclosures across Minnesota:
"Let's reduce the size of government, redesign it, let's reduce the cost of doing business in the state, so we keep our jobs and start attracting new jobs."In recent days, Stonewall Emmer's been, well, stonewalling on the details of this "reduce and redesign" project, and every time he gives details, he gets them wrong. Perhaps the most egregious example was his assertion that by eliminating the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency he could save Minnesotans $1.6 billion! Wow, if that we're true, I might even support it! But alas:
During a debate in March, Emmer said the state could save a lot of money if the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency were eliminated. "If you get rid of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, ladies and gentlemen, and move it to a rent subsidies thing, that's a $1.6 billion item," he said. But that calculcation is wrong, according to Tim Marx, who ran the Housing Finance Agency under Gov. Tim Pawlenty from 2003-2008. Marx said less than 10 percent of the agency's budget comes from state tax dollars. The other funds come from selling bonds to the private market, the federal government, or from borrowing money at one rate and lending it at another.Well, at least Emmer would understand being sued. And he was only wrong on the amount saved by nearly a factor of 20, but that's just accountant speak, and he's not running for State Accountant.
Marx said the agency doesn't use state money to employ staff or rent office space. Instead, the $84 million in state taxpayer funds spent on the agency is dedicated to affordable housing. "The agency is self-supporting, and the appropriations that the agency receives do not go to the operations of the agency," Marx said. Emmer also said he doesn't understand why the state is involved in using public money to compete with private businesses. But Marx and Jim Solem, who ran the agency from 1978-1994, said the Housing Finance Agency's mission is to provide housing help to those who can't get it from the private market. Solem also said the state would be faced with multiple lawsuits if the agency were completely shut down.
"The agency has pledged to those bond holders and folks who have invested in Minnesota that it will be a good steward of their money, and will actively work to make certain they get repaid," Solem said. "So the agency has to be in business for as long as those bonds are outstanding, or the bond holders would sue the state of Minnesota and probably win."
Even more offensive than Emmer's apparent inability to understand what state agencies do or how much they actually spend is that one of the very few examples he actually gives of how to save money is an agency working to prevent the foreclosures plaguing his district. One program that is partially supported by state grants is Minnesota Home Ownership Center, which in 2009 prevented 536 foreclosures in Wright and Sherburne counties, and 8,339 foreclosures statewide. This represented a savings to Minnesota of over $600 million in 2009 alone.
Stonewall Emmer's not being very forthcoming about what his grand plans are that will allow him to "easily" cut 20% from the state budget. But every little detail that he does release demonstrates his lack of understanding of what state government does, and what it accomplishes. Going after MHFA is particularly reckless, considering that it is one of the agencies that nearly pays for itself, provides needed access to housing finance that the private market can't or won't, and is working with a network of government agencies and nonprofits to help prevent foreclosures. That's the way government is supposed to work. But to Stonewall Emmer, that's the problem, not the solution.
Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz