Rep. Steve Green talks proposed gun legislation
Guns and taxes seemed to be the overriding issues at a town hall forum Saturday staged by Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston).
The event in Park Rapids drew a crowd of 40, many concerned about Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal, preventing aquatic invasive species and tax and business incentives that would help small towns stay alive.
But the hot-button issue was whether the federal or state government would remove gun rights in a county where hunting is regarded a sacred right.
For the most part, Green was preaching to the converted.
He got a rousing round of applause when he said he would not yield or compromise on gun legislation, swapping provisions from one bill for another.
"My take on it is no," the District 2B representative said. "We're not giving you anything. This is our freedom you're talking about."
Green said so many smaller bills are working their way through various committees, he's worried that in an attempt to compromise on overall legislation, trades will have to be made. One bill deals with clips, one with assault rifles, another with registration.
"If they get to the House floor, they'll go down party lines," Green said, urging his audience to put pressure on their representatives.
"As far as I know Republicans are united on that," he said. "We need to turn somewhere between eight and ten Democrats" to get a favorable gun rights bill.
Local issues and a flood of bills
Green said he's held to the party line on not endorsing any bonding bills this session, particularly a $4 million bill that would establish the upper Mississippi Center for the Arts, headquartered in the Park Rapids Armory. That has rankled some local business leaders.
"The first thing that I looked at with that bill is that it's not a bonding year," Green said in refusing to sponsor it.
"The Senate majority leader has said he's not doing a bonding bill so that part of it was irrelevant. I also talked to local businesses, as many as I could get to talk to me, who do private arts shows and there was some concern as to why a city was putting in a publicly funded arts center when they're out there struggling, trying to make a living.
"And so it was those issues that I said, 'This year especially, I just can't sign on to that.' There were just too many variables there I was just not comfortable with."
Green said there are so many bills, he's being careful about what he sponsors, and will not sponsor or dismiss any bill without reading it first.
His first bill should hit a committee this week.
"I did author an angel tax credit bill," he said. "Investors who want to invest in new businesses in your area, you'll get a tax credit."
He's also "working on requiring anyone who gets Legacy funds to comply with the current laws and stay up to date or they won't get funding."
Legacy Funds and AIS
Coalition of Lake Association members suggested Legacy money could be spent on fighting the war against invasive species.
Alternatively, they asked if Green had considered a long-term sustainable funding mechanism to keep area waters pristine.
Green seemed lukewarm to the idea.
"Lessard Sams (the Legacy funding arm) gets about $100 million a year and after four years that's $400 million and they haven't given one nickel towards aquatic invasive species," said COLA member Chuck Diesner.
"They're a frustrating group (Lessard Sams) and we've got people on both sides," Green said. "It's been insinuated to us in committee that whatever Lessard Sams say we're supposed to go with"
He said legislators should sit on the committee to ensure a more broad-based representation.
"Legacy money can only be spent for new stuff," Green said. "You can't go after existing programs that are already out there and help the funding. They have to stand on their own."
And he said boat stickers to fund cleaner lakes never received public support.
When giant barges are pulling into the Twin Ports without filters on the ballasts, Green said it's hard to pick on anglers and recreational boaters to fix the problem.
Invasive species plague the land, not just the waters, he said.
But he's riled that the DNR has used Legacy funding to acquire more land, taking it off local tax rolls.
"We don't need any more land for the DNR," he maintained. "Federal and state land, now we're over a fourth in Minnesota. If they (DNR land acquisitions) continue at the current pace, I fully expect they could own half the state."
Cuts and taxes
Local Government Aid has declined 50 percent over the past eight years, said Park Rapids City Councilman Rod Nordberg.
Business owner Cynthia Jones said small towns need such aid to defray the tax burden and keep Mom and Pop businesses alive.
Green said with a $6.2 billion deficit looming, hard decisions over cuts had to be made.
While not agreeing with Jones, he said the state should cut unfunded mandates to cities, townships and counties if it expects them to get by without help.
Green also got an earful about Dayton's proposal to impose a business-to-business tax on services.
"Obviously our industry would be impacted very negatively," said Dave DeLaHunt, part owner of a Park Rapids family radio station.
"It's more regressive than a straight sales tax because if you're doing a business-to-business transaction there's nowhere to pass that added expense on to," DeLaHunt said. "At least with a sales tax you pass it on to the consumer. And the consumer can decide to purchase or not to."
"If you're like most businesses, you don't operate on a huge margin," Green agreed. "It's gotta come from somewhere. You're going to have to raise your advertising to make up the difference."
But DeLaHunt argued the economic climate is too poor to find that wiggle room.
Green deplored the tax climate of Minnesota, contending he's spoken to businesses that could easily jump state borders if Minnesota doesn't provide a more favorable climate to thrive in.
"I would encourage you to really go to the mat on this because the northern part of the state, unless we stop this out of control taxing and spending, the northern half of the state is going to become an economic wasteland," said Republican activist Al Kleinke.
"I called the U.S. Small Business Agency to get their latest numbers," Kleinke continued. "They just completed the 2012 results. They look at 16 factors that are non-partisan and rank the states form best to worst. The best small business state in the United States is South Dakota. The worst state is Minnesota, which ranks 50th out of 50.
"Now I ask you to fight for the people in this room and these businesses to save the northern half of this state," Kleinke continued to spirited applause. "We've got money to build stadiums we've got money for all kinds of parades, we've got money to fund barroom singers with guitars. But we do not need to tax another $3 billion more out of the citizens of this state. "
That was a reference to Dayton's desire to raise another $3 billion in revenues as part of his budget bill.
Another thorny issue is imposing Internet taxes.
Jones said customers window shop for unique items she sells, then go home and order them online, bypassing state sales tax.
Those shopping habits are killing small businesses and Mom and Pops, she maintained.
Green said he thinks it might be too complicated to impose such taxes, but Jones and others disagreed.
"The amount it's gonna bring into the state is extremely low and it's going to be extremely hard to implement," Green said. "I'm still looking at it. I've heard the concerns on both sides."
"I don't understand why it's so difficult - if you buy something from Minnesota you should be charged Minnesota sales tax," DeLaHunt argued.
"If I make a purchase in Fargo I've gotta pay North Dakota sales tax," he said. "I don't understand why the Internet is so different," he added. "It should be relatively easy to implement and that would level the playing field for local retailers."
Jones said a better tax climate would transform Park Rapids into a year-round community, not just a seasonal one prone to boom and bust cycles.
"As far as making Park Rapids a year-round community, I'm all for that," Green agreed.
"Our little towns are dying. And the reason, is industry there to attract young families? We need the Mom and Pops but we also need the Lamb Westons that can attract young people. It all works together."