House DFL caucus hears LGA concerns

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2003

By now, the House DFL Caucus must be suffering deja vu.

Another DFL caucus town hall meeting was held Tuesday night. This time, the city of Austin hosted the meeting in its council chambers.

State Reps. John Dorn and Gene Pelkowski, co-chairs of the caucus, called Tuesday night's town hall meeting to order and announced the ground rules for taking testimony.

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The purpose of the town hall meeting was to hear testimony on the anticipated impact of the state budget deficit.

Everywhere the caucus members go in Minnesota, people at the meetings have complained about the anticipated impact. Tuesday night was no exception.

Joe Brown, Austin High School principal, painted a stark picture of gloom and doom in the Austin Independent School District.

Brown predicted 26 teaches will lose their jobs,

In a district dominated by 13 percent special education, students 36 percent low-income students and 21 percent mobility students (those who enter and leave the school district in the same school year) the anticipated cuts are a "cruel April Fool's joke," Brown told the legislators.

Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz talked extensively about the massive Local Government Aid cuts the city may have to face.

Rietz said, "We want to be at the table and we want to help with the cuts that need to be made."

But Rietz said, the city of Austin has cut 25 jobs from its work force in the last 10 years. She said the city has combined the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority director and city administrator positions, decided against replacing a librarian, frozen plans to hire additional police officers, postponed capital outlays for equipment and public improvements.

There is not much else the city can do, according to the mayor, to forestall the anticipated LGA reductions.

Todd Christopherson, a student at Riverland Community College, and Jim Davis, interim RCC president, continued the recitation of gloom and doom predictions before the caucus members.

Davis let Christopherson take the spotlight and speak first and longest to the politicians.

Christopherson said tuition increases were pricing higher education out of reach of many students.

Davis said decreasing state grants for students impacts adversely upon low-income students, who depend upon the money to further their education.

When the House DFL caucus opened the town hall meeting to the audience members, Peter Winkels was the first to speak.

Winkels worried aloud about proposed cuts in funding for the state's nursing homes and Minnesota Care.

He said reductions in spending are one thing, but "it's so difficult to determine the ripple effect of those same cuts."

The gloom and doom rhetoric continued throughout the town hall meeting. Occasionally, the speakers took a detour from the mission: to gather citizens input on the anticipated state budget deficit's impact on local government.

That happened when the Rev. Barbara Finley-Shea, pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Lyle, spoke.

Her topic: concentrated animal feedlots and their effect on the environment.

Finley-Shea used a proposed 4,200 cow dairy operation near Hayfield in nearby Dodge County as an example of "corporate agriculture," as she described it which threatens

not only the environment, but the local economy, communities and the quality of life also.

More to the point were the words expressed about Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment adjustments in state spending and his proposed budget for dealing with a $4.2 billion deficit.

Lee Bonorden can be reached at 434-2232 or by e-mail at