Local legislators listen to constituents' concerns at town hall
The feedback was clear. Residents want state legislators to make cuts in order to fix Minnesota's budget mess.
State Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, and state Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, had a series of town hall meetings Saturday, including a stop in Park Rapids to listen to constituents.
Skoe said there are three large issues facing lawmakers this session.
First is the General Assistance Medical Care fix. He's hopeful that legislators and Governor Tim Pawlenty can reach an agreement to provide care for those individuals most in need.
Sailer was also optimistic about reaching an agreement and said it was necessary.
"If we don't come to an agreement on GAMC, it could be devastating for rural hospitals that rely on funding from the program," she said.
The bonding bill is also on the table. This bonding bill would make significant investments in higher education, transportation and clean water infrastructure. It is also expected to create 10,000 to 20,000 jobs.
The third issue is the budget. Skoe said that legislators are looking at cuts this year. He has voted for tax increases in the past and said that he thinks tax increases will be necessary in the future in order to have a truly balanced budget.
"It will be tough for the next couple years," Sailer said. "We'll be looking at some creative ways to streamline the budget."
Several people who attended Saturday's town hall in Park Rapids said they're tired of the state jumping into things without thinking about it. Some septic system professionals who attended the meeting gave an example of the state's handling of septic system guidelines.
After Hubbard County adopted a new septic system ordinance to comply with the state, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decided to reopen the public comment period statewide to work on guidelines. This could delay the process a year or two.
Al Winterberger, a septic system professional, said the PCA wasn't listening and that's why there were problems.
Sailer said she thanked those who told her about the problems with the private septic system ordinances. It helped her to work on a bill to have the PCA revisit the program.
Al Kleinke, of Nevis, said it will take a long time for the state to get out of the budget mess.
"I've been hearing people want the budget problems fixed, they want to see cuts," he said. "And do it by forcing efficiencies in all agencies."
Dick Bogaard, of Park Rapids, said that high taxes are driving businesses out of the state.
"We can't continue asking people for more money," he said.
Skoe said he disagreed.
"I'm a businessman," he said. "If I'm making more money, I reinvest in the business and don't have to pay as much in taxes."
Kleinke also said that taxes were too high and driving businesses out of the state.
Sailer and Skoe both said that this session legislators would be working only on cutting the budget. Tax increases could happen in future years.
"It might be tougher as a consumer the next few years," depending on cuts made at the state level, Sailer said.
One area they are looking at for cuts is licensing boards. It could mean longer wait times for having complaints dealt with, she said.
Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll attended the meeting as well and said that Local Government Aid has been hit hard for years. She'd like to see cuts be fair across the board and thanked legislators for looking at those options.
Despite the budget mess, Skoe and Sailer remain optimistic.
"We're going to have some cuts that will cause some pain but we've got some really good stuff to build on," Sailer said.
"This is Minnesota and we have a tremendous history of figuring things out," Skoe said. "We can figure this out."