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State candidates talk money woes, business

Solving or explaining Minnesota's financial woes is virtually impossible in a two-minute presentation, agreed a panel of state House and Senate candidates at a forum in Nevis Monday night.

That was where the agreement ended.

DFL Dist. 4 Sen, Mary Olson of Bemidji and challenger John Carlson had vast differences about how to solve a biennial budget deficit predicted around $6 billion.

n Carlson, to audience applause, said if pressed, he'd shut down the MPCA and "welfare to illegal aliens" as ways to bail out the state's financial woes.

He stressed getting more out of the state's forest industry and said businesses need tax incentives to hire and expand.

Carlson said the state "needs to redesign how to deliver services" and suggested there are numerous places to make cuts.

He praised wildlife and sportsmens groups as enhancing conservation efforts, pointing out that Ducks Unlimited, of which he is a member, "create wetland areas that act as a natural filter for our lakes and streams."

Government "has to realize it can't be all things to all people," he said, adding the old axiom that "the government that governs least governs best."

He said, "Adding 17 percent (to the state's budget) every biennium for 40 years isn't sustainable."

He said rural schools suffer from funding inequities, especially transporting students, and that open enrollment needs to be revamped to include "bricks and mortar" funds for the school districts students choose to attend.

Otherwise, the simple per pupil formula of compensation doesn't cover the expense of education, especially in rural districts.

Carlson, a Bemidji small business owner and graduate of the defunct Akeley High School, wants nothing to do with the health care reform legislation referred to as "Obamacare."

Like Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Carlson said Minnesota has no business participating in the Medicare "early enrollment" offer because it commits the state to providing matching funds it may never have.

Carlson said he was only accepting $100 donations from individuals, not PAC or special interest money.

n Olson said Carlson has been the beneficiary of at least one insurance industry fundraiser and considers it a powerful special interest group.

Olson, seeking a second term, said, "I'm not afraid to take a difficult position on controversial issues."

She advocates early enrollment in the federal Medicare program.

"Hospitals are losing money," she said of the offer Minnesota received to be one of a 11 pioneers enrolling in the new federal program.

"We have a high percent of older and poor people with health needs" that rely on Medicare.

Changes in the state's General Assistance Medical Care program have resulted in seniors and indigent people seeking expensive emergency care, she pointed out. Hospitals have to eat those bills when the patients' state health plan won't cover the care, she said.

Olson said the state needs to spend more money marketing tourism and its natural resources. She also advocates streamlining agencies such as the DNR, MPCA and environmental agencies rather than eliminating them to simplify the permitting processes that she said can be redundant.

And Olson denied the state has raised its budgets 17 percent annually.

Olson wants Minnesota to eliminate school funding inequities and pass legislation to recapture the seasonal recreational tax funds that were appropriated by former Gov. Jesse Ventura to plug budget holes.

n DFL-er Meg Bye, running a second time to unseat GOP Rep. Larry Howes of Walker, stressed her rural upbringing and present home in Pequot Lakes as giving her a can-do attitude to fixing problems and taking responsibility.

"We need to pay attention to the environment... and grow jobs on resources we haven't used before," she said,

She said the state should pursue more green technology and jobs, especially encompassing what she called "the new tourism," Minnesota's waters.

"It's a key growth area," she said.

"We've been cutting for 20 years," she said of the state's budget woes. "We don't have anything left to cut."

Bye said she has worked to bring opposing group such as farmers and lake residents together to reach the common ground of water preservation, not finger pointing as to which group is at fault.

She, too, took issues with Carlson's budget figures.

"The rate of spending in local and state government from 2001 to 2010 is .5 percent," she said,

And metropolitan legislators who assign more per pupil aid to Twin Cities students are simply breaking the law, she admonished. The argument needs to be put in those terms.

n Howes, who has served 12 years in House Dist. 4B, said Minnesota should "promote jobs" and give the business community some glimpse into the future to speed up the economic recovery.

'The business community needs certainty about taxes," he said. "They're afraid to invest, They need incentives to hire and expand."

If agencies need to be cut, the burgeoning Department of Health and Human Services will likely be a target, he admitted,

Agencies such as the DNR "are mostly funded by fees" and wouldn't be targeted for cuts.

Howes, when asked about his environmental stance, said, "We spend a lot of money on our lakes and streams. We do a lot."

He, too expressed concerns about the uneven funding formula that has metropolitan students receiving twice as much per pupil funding as rural students.

His budget figures indicate the state has increased spending 13 percent every year. He estimated, "the next biennium revenues at $2 billion more than this one."

And he pointed out that when a department received a lower allocation than it has requested, "those are not cuts."

Howes summed up his position bluntly: "I represent your ideas. I'm pro-life, pro gun,, less taxes, smaller government."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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