House speaker visits Austin

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

Steve Sviggum, speaker of the state House of Representatives, recapped the 2003 legislative session Friday afternoon at City Hall in Austin.

The session went 10 days over this year, but Sviggum said the effort was worth it, and a lot of positive things were accomplished for Minnesota.

The new budget, offsetting a $4.2 billion dollar state deficit, was the most hotly debated topic this year.

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The process of cutting local government aid in particular was followed closely by local government officials across outstate Minnesota. The final figures now have Austin losing $933,000 for 2003 and $1.3 million in 2004.

Sviggum said some representatives had a tough time voting for the package.

"Why people voted for the bill was what was not in the bill," he said.

What was not in the bill was a tax increase for Minnesota families. Gov. Tim Pawlenty made a campaign promise not to raise taxes to make up the deficit.

Sviggum said the cuts will be tough, but not raising taxes prioritizes things properly.

Local tax levys are still an option, however, for city governments. In the bill, local governments can levy back up to 60 percent of their losses. A reverse referendum, where citizens can vote a recall against local taxes, was a part of previous bills, but did not make it into the final bill.

Sviggum said he hopes local governments will find ways to run more efficiently and not place the burden on citizens.

He said the legislators tried to focus money towards those that need it most and with that in mind, schools and nursing homes were spared from most of the state-wide cuts. Classrooms and nursing homes, he said, did not lose any money, although with no new money for increases in things like inflation, he said he realizes that times will still be tough.

Sviggum also said the new bonding bill that was passed could be beneficial to Austin. He said Austin is in line for money from the Waste Water Infrastructure fund as part of that bill.

Health and human services was another area that he said was handled well. With scheduled increases of 20 percent, he said cuts were necessary; however they still will receive a 9 percent increase.

"It was a significant improvement from where we began, from the initial expectations on the session," Sviggum said.

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at