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Legislative forum covers tax reform, job creation

Legislators gathered in Hubbard County Thursday to talk with local government officials about the upcoming session. From left are Sen. Rod Skoe, Sen. John Carlson and Rep. David Hancock. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Hubbard County officials visited with state legislators Thursday to preview the upcoming session, which starts Tuesday.

The legislative forum was hosted by the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission. Sen. Rod Skoe, Sen. John Carlson and Rep. Dave Hancock attended the session.

"I expect this to be a quicker session than previous years," Skoe said. "It is a bonding year and I expect there will be one but it will probably be smaller than the governor's proposal."

Hancock said the bonding bill will depend on the February budget forecast.

"I want to make sure it's a prudent use of funds," he said.

Carlson said he would also like to have discussion about Aquatic Invasive Species.

"I think one of the key things should be to develop a world-class AIS research center at the U of M," he said. "No one else has that."

Funding could come from Legacy dollars, he said.

Hubbard County commissioner Cal Johannsen said the Department of Natural Resources seems to be buying a lot of land and taking it off the tax roll.

"I think the PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) money needs to be tied to Legacy dollars," he said.

The legislators agreed and said that local governments need to be compensated in situations where land is taken off the tax roll.

"There has to be a mechanism in place to pay local governments," Skoe said.

County commissioners were also concerned with the Homestead Tax Credit exclusion that was passed during last year's session.

County assessor Bob Hansen said whenever the state makes a shift in property taxes it has a huge impact, especially in rural areas.

He wondered if legislators could look at giving relief to cities of less than 10,000 people.

County commissioner Kathy Grell said she would like to see the state work on simplifying the reporting process for local governments. Some departments have to submit several reports to different state agencies that are very similar, she said.

Pam Heeren, Hubbard County auditor, emphasized that point.

"The number of reports we're having to do is growing by the minute," she said. "Some of it is just redundant."

She also thinks legal notices should just be published once and then put on the website.

Hubbard County attorney Don Dearstyne said he would like to see a bill that would make it a felony to assault an attorney, which is similar to the law pertaining to law enforcement.

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association will be lobbying for the change.

Legislators were asked to keep an eye on a state septic system ordinance that has been delayed to 2014.

Eric Buitenwerf, Environmental Services administrator for Hubbard County, said the proposed state standard for septic systems was too high when it was brought up a few years ago. It would have resulted in higher administration costs and higher costs for landowners without proof that the changes were needed, he said.

Hancock said some of the state regulations are becoming too restrictive and he wants to look at easing up on them.

Land commissioner Chip Lohmeier said he would like to see continued support for "boots on the ground" in the DNR. Also, he would like to see an extension of the Heartland Trail to Itasca State Park.

"The route we're looking at is about 90 percent public land so it won't take long to complete acquisitions, he said.

The legislators were asked to figure out a way to make it possible for township boards to donate to first responders not connected with a fire department. Townships were told they could no longer donate to these groups because of a liability insurance issue.

Dearstyne said he thinks the first responders should be included in the Good Samaritan Law.

Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll made a plug for Local Government Aid.

"It is probably our best tool for property tax relief," she said.

She asked the legislators what they plan to do to create jobs.

Carlson said he wants to make Minnesota a more tax-friendly state. He is in favor of repealing the corporate income tax.

"Again, it's a regulatory thing and we're overreaching," he said.

Skoe said he thinks the bonding bill will be a start.

"We need to continue to invest," he said. "Just lowering the corporate tax rate isn't the answer."

He wants to reform the tax system.

Hancock said he wants to leave more money in the hands of those who earned it. A corporate income tax repeal is part of the answer, he said.

The forum ended with a brief discussion on the Vikings stadium.

Each legislator said a funding source is needed and until that happens a stadium can't be built.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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