State leaders discuss bonding dollars

Published 5:30 pm Saturday, April 14, 2012

MInnesota Legislator Jeanne Poppe gives her opening remarks during a luncheon Friday at the Eagles Club, hosted by the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Eric Johnson/

Area legislators from both political parties shared hopeful sentiments on the state’s bonding bill Friday.

“I know it’s hard to watch on the outside,” said Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin. “But we can do it.”

The bill was one of many topics at the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon. Sparks was one of four panelists at the luncheon. He was joined by Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca; Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin; and Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea.

Email newsletter signup

The panelists agreed on the importance of passing the bonding bill this legislative session.

“We have seen and been a beneficiary of bonding bills for many years,” Poppe said.

Murray highlighted road and bridge repair, which fell in step with Sparks’ reminder that low construction costs and interests rates make it a good time to improve infrastructure.

Panelists valued The Hormel Institute’s expansion highly because of its ability to create local jobs. The state Capitol is chief priority in the bonding bill, however.

“Something has to be done to the people’s building,” Parry said, citing seeing a chunk of cement fall from the ceiling outside his office as one of numerous signs of deterioration.Discussion came down to the numbers. The bills sketched out in the House and Senate showed vastly different dollar amounts for the projects, which led to some contention over whether the bonding bill would pass in any form this session.

“We’re working hard to make sure it’s palpable for everybody,” Parry said.


Requiring Voter ID

Panelists split sharply down party lines when it came to the November ballot’s Voter ID amendment issue. Republicans Murray and Parry said requiring voters to have valid ID brings integrity to the system.

“We use photo IDs for just about everything we do now,” Parry said. “We have a strong voter system … what’s wrong with making it better?”

Murray said he had spoken to new U.S. citizens who considered showing ID important, and was proud to do so.

“I worked very hard to be a citizen of this country,” Murray said a new citizen told him.

Democrats remained opposed to the amendment.

“Eighty to 90 percent may think that this is an easy thing and it’s not going to impact them,” Poppe said. “But I’m thinking about my 92-year-old aunt who hasn’t driven for 60 years. She doesn’t have a photo ID.”

Sparks agreed, saying he was less concerned about the simple notion of voters having to show ID, but worried about the many unintended consequences the voter ID amendment would create.


Vikings stadium

Panelists later spoke about how best to fund a new Vikings Stadium, which may still move forward as a bill this year. Lawmakers are considering several ideas on how to fund the state’s $398 million share of the stadium.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” Poppe said, adding that any given suggestion would have people coming forward to say, ‘absolutely not.’

Parry showed concern over funding the state’s portion of the stadium through charitable gambling.

“I will never support something that takes away from our local units,” Parry said, noting the various legions and VFWs as examples. “They know how to handle the money better than 201 legislators.”

The state would authorize using electronic versions of the pull-tab and bingo games that charities operate at bars and fraternal clubs around Minnesota.

Murray said the issue transcends party lines.

“This is not a red or blue issue,” Murray said. “Purple bleeds in everybody.” The challenge would be showing prudence in how legislators put it together, he said.

All panelists agreed placing the burden on the state’s general fund was not an option.

The speakers discussed the state’s current budget surplus, varying on how confident they were of future revenue. Parry said he was disappointed over Gov. Mark Dayton’s refusal to pay back money borrowed from schools.

“What’s concerning to me is that when we tried to pay back the school shift, the governor said no,” he said.

Panelists spoke about the need for the state to harness a variety of options to supply its energy. While clean energy is a high priority, the state also has a responsibility to provide low-cost energy, the said.

The luncheon also included a discussion of local government mandates. The panelists said there are stacks of mandates to address, and looking into so many issues takes time.

Sandy Forstner, executive director of the Chamber, estimated about 50 people attended the luncheon. He said the event went well.

“There’s a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time,” he said. “These are important issues, and we certainly appreciate their time.”