Legislators talk budget, AIS at local town hall
State Sen. Rod Skoe and Rep. Roger Erickson talked about the budget, Aquatic Invasive Species and other issues with constituents Saturday afternoon at a town hall in Park Rapids.
Skoe gave a brief update about Gov. Mark Dayton's 2014-15 budget proposal.
"It's a strong, balanced budget," he said.
His proposed budget is $37.892 billion and includes income from adding a fourth tier of income tax on the state's top 2 percent of earners. The budget also includes an expanded sales tax to include services and clothing over $100, a 94 cent increase on the cigarette excise tax and property tax relief for Minnesota homeowners and business owners.
Skoe noted that Gov. Dayton's budget includes significant investment in education at the early childhood and K-12 level as well as higher education.
"We would like to lower student loan debt by expanding the grant programs," he said. "It will have a big impact."
There are also continuing conversations about working on a way to tax Internet sales, although something at the federal level would be ideal, Erickson said.
"It is really a fairness issue," Erickson added.
He has been working on AIS issues at the state level and has been receiving input from local lake associations. Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Association members Dan Kittilson and Chuck Diessner attended the town hall and said the success depends on state Legislators.
"You have to be firm with the DNR," Kittilson said. "We need success in stopping this."
Erickson said there is a lot of movement in the Legislature in regards to AIS. Research facilities are up and running and the state is looking to increase funding in the area.
"The focus is to stop this now, stop this early," he said.
Cynthia Jones also said she was concerned about AIS issues. She said a lot of the spending that occurs in Park Rapids comes from those who live on lakes. If the lakes become infested, it will have trickle down effects, she said.
"This is not just an issue for those who live on lakes," he said. "It will affect everyone."
Erickson said he and others are working to possibly get money for AIS from the Legacy funds, which are supposed to be used for arts, water and recreation in the state. Legislators have been told that AIS doesn't fit into the definition but many think it does.
Several other people who attended the town hall had questions and comments for the legislators about various issues.
Al Kleinke wanted to talk about jobs and said that, according to the Small Business Council Minnesota has a hostile business environment. Kleinke said businesses are moving to neighboring states.
Sen. Skoe said he disagreed with the data Kleinke presented.
"Of the surrounding states, the only one doing better is North Dakota," he said. "Why do you think 3M is expanding in Maplewood, the Mayo Clinic is expanding in Rochester? I'm tired of hearing about how bad Minnesota is when it's just not true."
Florence Hedeen spoke on behalf of the Headwaters Intervention Center, which has seen significant funding cuts recently.
"We can't ignore programming for victims and families," she said.
Hedeen suggested that the funding cuts create more problems in the long run because businesses will suffer a loss of productivity if someone misses work.
Skoe said he realized the funding was important but didn't offer any solutions.
Danielle Norby is a private mental health provider in Park Rapids and said she would like to see some legislation that addresses emotional abuse to address problems early on.
She also said there are issues with people who need care locally but have to pay out of pocket because the insurance companies say they have to travel somewhere in order to have their care covered.
"It's unfortunate because it's hurting people," she said.
Skoe said he would like to see changes in that as well and encouraged her to send him some information.
Marty Steffel said he wanted the legislators to make sure Greater Minnesota doesn't get overlooked.
Arnold Leshovsky said the budget was misleading because the entire budget is actually approaching $60 billion. He also suggested there was no oversight.
Skoe said that is true but the legislators are working on just the general fund budget. He disagreed about oversight as well.
Some people were concerned about gun legislation and wondered what the legislators thought about the issue.
Sen. Skoe said he supported 2nd Amendment rights and doesn't think any drastic legislation will take place.
He wants the state to focus on safety in the schools and mental health prevention.