Legislative candidates tackle budget deficit

Published 1:57 pm Friday, October 29, 2010

Minnesota’s budget deficit was one of key issues of a debate of the candidates for state Legislature Thursday night.

Prioritizing the state’s budget concerns was the key topic in a League of Women Voters Debate featuring District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, a DFLer, and challenger Kathy Green, a Republican; District 27A Rep. Robin Brown, a DFLer, and opponent Rich Murray, a Republican; and District 27B Rep. Jeanne Poppe and challenger Jennifer Gumbel.

Green said her first priority as a state senator would be addressing the budget issues currently facing the state of Minnesota, stating that the issue has to be addressed early in the Legislative session.

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“The reason I’m running is because our budget is broken,” Green said.

Green said local people are concerned, and she accused the incumbents of not addressing the issue in an urgent manner.

However, Sparks said the Legislature has put forth a great deal of efforts in fixing the issue. He said jobs would be one of his focuses if re-elected. Sparks chairs the Bioscience and Renewable Energy Development Committee, and he said the field will be a driving force in creating jobs in Minnesota.

“These are good paying jobs, they’re going to stay local,” Sparks said.

Gumbel said she is running to support rural development, but she said the budget needs to be addressed before that can happen.

“We can’t do things the way we’ve always done them,” Gumbel said. “It’s not just the economy that is creating the problem.”

Poppe said she’d aim to secure flood dollars, make higher education affordable, and make sure that there is good solid debate on many of the issues.


Green said the Legislature will need to prioritize spending, and the focus will need be need to be placed on education and on public infrastructure.

“What I would do is prioritize: Cut out the waste,” Green said.

Sparks noted that the Legislature has supported budget cuts deeper than the ones approved by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Sparks said the aging baby boomer population is putting a strain on the economy. In this economy, Sparks said it’s important to help insulate the middle class and seniors from government cuts.

“The one budget that I will not support is any budget that will force seniors or the middle class to pay more property taxes to stay in their homes. That’s just not right,” Sparks said.

In a down economy, Sparks said bonding brings a great deal of dollars to the area at a discounted price. He used flood mitigation as an example, stating that the September floods would have been much more severe without recent mitigation efforts.

Like Green, Gumbel said that education and roads need to be the focus right now.

“We need to be able to identify core functions,” Gumbel said.

That is especially true in bonding, as Gumbel said the Legislature should only bond for items that are absolutely necessary.

“We should be bonding right now for things that we need,” Gumbel said.

Poppe said that Minnesotans can no longer expect all their needs to be supported, let alone their wants.

“Are we going to continue to have the same expectations that we’ve had in the past?” she said.

The people of Minnesota, Poppe said, will have to inform Legislators of what they think the most important needs are.

Local Government Aid

While Poppe said that LGA will likely be reformed in some way, she said it will continue to be an important part of Austin’s budget. She said it’s something the legislature will need to support.

“It is an equalizing factor when it comes to our services that we can provide,” she said.

Likewise, Green described LGA as a tool for small, rural cities.

“It’s real easy for the urban areas to say ‘let’s do away with LGA because it doesn’t impact them,’” Green said.

“We need to be the rural voice that can speak to urban legislators,” she added.

Sparks said cities rely on LGA because they don’t have same property wealth as big cities. The funding helps smaller cities keep police and fire departments services.

“We continue to fight very hard for the local government aid that we receive,” Sparks said.

Gumbel said now some cities that don’t need LGA are receiving it, and the Legislature needs to find it’s way back to what LGA was originally intended to do.

“How are we going to do things differently?” she said. “Right now, LGA has kind of strayed from its intended purpose.”

She said she’d be in favor of reforming LGA to restore its original purpose.