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Roger Erickson (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)
Roger Erickson (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

District 2 forum: Getting grip on state budget is priority

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news Park Rapids, 56470

Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Getting Minnesota's budget under control and taming what's anticipated to be another multi-billion dollar deficit, or a surplus that shouldn't be tapped, got bi-partisan support Thursday at a candidates' forum in Park Rapids.

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The six candidates vying for seats in District 2 agreed on the solution, but not how to achieve it.

Growing the economy in general and cutting spending seemed to be the basic choices of all six candidates, who urged fewer business regulations and bringing higher wage opportunities to the region.

Meanwhile glossy political flyers are filling mailboxes like raindrops, inundating regional voters. Redistricting after the 2010 census has created a new district, 2A, and new opportunities for new faces to enter area races.

DFL Sen. Rod Skoe, who has represented the district for 14 years as a representative, then senator, predicted by February 2013, the deficit could be anywhere from "$3.3 billion to $4.5 billion."

Republican Rep. Dave Hancock of Bemidji's campaign materials maintain, "Dave helped turn a $6 billion budget deficit into a $1 billion surplus..."

Hancock has sent at least a half-dozen flyers into the district, the most of any candidate.

Here is what the candidates, many of them small business owners, have to say on the questions asked at the League of Women Voters public forum:

n Higher wage opportunities:

Hancock maintains "there's nothing the Legislature can do" and that jobs are primarily a private sector issue. He wants the educational system "we pay for" to better prepare people for the job market. "We need to remove the regulations that prohibit businesses from staying here."

Roger Erickson, DFL candidate for Dist. 2A representative, advocates the state "refocus education." For instance, he said only one tech school trains electrical linemen for lucrative jobs until he got involved. Now more training is offered in his district.

The former Lake of the Woods educator said the state isn't building factories because of a shortage of labor, and suggested colleges and tech schools should meet the job demand.

Steve Green, Dist. 2B Republican candidate, said, "You can educate all the people you want but if there's no jobs for them...The three states around us have a better business climate than Minnesota. Government should get out of the way."

He said skyrocketing energy costs and burdensome regulations "need to be dealt with.

"We can't afford to lose much more."

Former DFL Rep. Brita Sailer, who is running for the Dist 2B seat, said improvements in technology, Internet services and cell phone capability "are the key to getting people to jobs. Public education is a big piece; job training is an important factor." In making new opportunities, Sailer cautioned, "We must protect our natural resource base."

She urged a more level playing field for all businesses, large and small, she said, "There are great opportunities in the energy field."

Skoe also urged development of high-speed Internet connections so people could work anywhere, but warned it will take a massive investment for telecommunications companies to build that network.

"We're competing well," he said. "We have vibrant business communities, good schools, good healthcare." Those factors alone should lure qualified workers and companies.

Republican challenger Dennis Moser, a Clearbrook retired business owner, suggested getting energy costs down to attract industry.

"Not everybody has to go to college," he said, stressing the tech school training his sons received landed them well-paying jobs and bright futures.

"We need to promote any type of work-based education," he emphasized.

n Minnesota waters:

"The state has absolutely failed to contain the spread" of Aquatic Invasive Species, Skoe maintained. "If we don't it will have a severe impact to the economy, property values and our way of life."

He suggested, like eradicating bovine TB years ago, the solution wouldn't be popular or painless, but must be pursued.

Moser said AIS "needs to be stopped at the root cause." The Clearwater River runs through his property.

"You have to be a good steward (of the water) but the state shouldn't dictate policy to landowners." Moser said farmers are the best stewards of the land; government shouldn't be "depended on to do anything for you."

Hancock, a lake resident, suggested there were no simple solutions.

The large volume of outside boats in area fishing tournaments makes decontamination an "impossible task," he said.

"I'm hoping we can find that silver bullet with Legacy funds," he added. Quarantines and enforcement of lake waters will entail massive cooperation, and likely some relinquishment of the DNR's authority to oversee the state's waters. When AIS can be transported by loons and eagles, he said it's not about blame. Curbing AIS is a group effort.

"Bar codes," Erickson said bluntly, advocating a bar code be assigned to every boat and angler at time of license purchase or renewal. The code would identify where the boat was supposed to be. If anglers fished multiple lakes, the fee would rise. If you fish infested waters, the code would not allow you to launch in another lake until it had gone through a certified decontamination process, he said.

"It will impose on their liberties," he admitted, but "you can't assume everyone will flush their live wells."

Green stressed local controls to deal with waters, using legislation in place. For instance, he said, resort owners have a vested interest in keeping their lakes clean to preserve their livelihoods.

But zebra mussels were a foreign invasion, he said, and need federal funding to combat.

Sailer said protecting groundwater is equally important as protecting lakes and rivers. "Water doesn't respect political boundaries." Water policies require a "great deal" of cooperation among the effected stakeholders, she said.

Volunteers are exhausted from policing their own lakes, she suggested. People who use lakes must take individual responsibility with oversight from lake associations and the DNR.

n Having a financial safety net:

"The state should not be in the business of raising revenue," Green maintained, urging business growth to fund needed services.

"Our property tax base is disappearing," he said. "The Legacy Amendment was pushed through deceptively," by allowing a disproportionate amount of the funds to be given to the DNR for land acquisition, That's just removing more property from the tax rolls, he said.

Sailer said the state needs to address the disparity between tax-rich and tax-poor counties and erase those "winners and losers" outcome.

Erickson said it's a matter of "figuring out where our resources should go," whether it be to the old or the young.

Small school districts are having to pass referendums to fund their schools, which is a terrific burden on local taxpayers, he said.

"I don' t think of roads and tourism as a safety net," Moser said. "Taxes are to provide for those who can't provide for themselves."

He urged welfare reforms so that recipients couldn't buy cigarettes or lottery tickets with their benefit cards.

Hancock said the state should divest of some state-owned land to get it back on the tax rolls "to generate income."

He warned that giving government more money is self-defeating, because "government expands in direct proportion" to the revenue it has available.

Skoe said there needs to be differentiation between items like dedicated road funds and capital bonding for programs like education. "Long-term borrowing is only 3 percent of our state's annual revenue," he said,

"We've run a biennial deficit since (former Gov. Jesse) Ventura handed a deficit to (former Gov. Tim) Pawlenty. We need to solve this finally, permanently."

The candidates also expounded on education funding and the importance of restoring school payments to local districts, domestic violence, ticks and voting for the district or the political party.

All six candidates pledged to vote district first, party second.

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