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Legislators: Cuts alone won't solve state deficit

Rep. Kent Eken, Rep. Brita Sailer and Sen. Rod Skoe spoke with constituents in Park Rapids Saturday about the state financial situation. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

State legislators representing the Park Rapids area answered questions about the state's financial situation Saturday at a town hall meeting.

Sen. Rod Skoe, Rep. Brita Sailer and Rep. Kent Eken talked with about 50 people Saturday afternoon at the Frank White Education Center meeting room.

"We want to talk about the state budget, some of our expectations for it, and have a really honest dialogue about where we're going," Sailer said.

The official budget projection was a $4.8 billion deficit as of November, she said. But a new budget forecast expected to include a larger deficit was scheduled to be released Tuesday.

"If we just cut all of state government, we still would not be able to reach the budget and cut the deficit," Sailer said.

It is much more complicated than just cutting, she said.

"We will be looking at shifts ... and looking at revenue," Sailer said.

Eken pointed out that the state doesn't have as many resources to work with, which is part of the problem.

"One of the problems with the fix in '03 was that we used one-time money and some of the concerns were kicked down the road," he said.

Cuts will need to be made but the question is how deep and where, Eken said.

"I do believe that we need to have a balanced budget that is fair across the state," he said.

Skoe said he would like to have more structural balance when looking at the budget.

"We need to look at how we got here so we can figure out how to get out of it," he said.

A four-year budget cycle is something he would like to see, rather than a two-year budget cycle.

"When you start looking out a little longer, you start paying attention to your revenue forecast and your expense forecast," he said.

The legislators addressed government reform and looking at better ways to operate.

"We will be looking at some consolidation and looking at different work weeks, maybe evening hours or fewer days," Skoe said.

Sailer also said the state will be carefully looking at how certain areas operate and look for efficiencies.

"We have to honestly take a look at many things we would have never considered and see if there is merit or not," she said.

Several people questioned property assessing in Minnesota and looking at reform.

"We are looking at this and want to get to the bottom of this," Skoe said.

Others had concerns about nursing homes and other medical facilities being hit hard. Also, there was concern about healthcare for people with disabilities.

"The governor has proposed a 3 percent reduction in long-term care facilities and the undoing of the re-basing that was done for nursing homes," Skoe said.

Sailer said there aren't firm numbers yet.

"That is one of those things that we're looking at when we look at cuts and being fair across the board," she said. "Sometimes cuts across the board aren't fair."

Eken said the needs are growing in the area of long-term care.

"In the near future, the needs for long-term care for seniors will be growing," he said. "We need to be prepared for that but we're not right now. That's something we need to seriously look at."

Regarding stimulus money, the legislators said they don't know yet where the money will go.

"We want to put some into jobs but a lot of strings are attached," Sailer said.

"We don't know today what the final outcome will be," Skoe said.