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Chamber reps speak out in visit to Capitol

President Lori Paris of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce lobbies Monday for continued aid to cities, saying regional centers such as Bemidji serve large areas. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

Eight chamber of commerce organizations sent representatives to the Capitol Monday to encourage Dayton to not allow Republicans to cut LGA. Fourteen chambers have passed resolutions in favor of preserving LGA, even though the state organization wants to program to be cut.

Those at the Capitol called for a combination of budget cuts and tax increases to balance the state budget.

"We need these strong, regional hubs to prosper," said President Lori Paris of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce.

Bemidji, Paris said, needs state help in part because more than half of the city's property cannot be taxed since it is government owned.

Duluth is taking a larger hit than most cities in the GOP budget, President David Ross of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce said. Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis are singled out to take deeper state aid cuts and soon they would lose local aid entirely.

"He is our last line of defense," Ross said of Dayton. "We stand shoulder to shoulder with Gov. Dayton."

Ross accused Republicans of playing politics since the three cities that would lose aid under the Republican plan are represented only by Democrats.

President Shannon Stassen of the Crookston Chamber of Commerce said his community is so close to the lower-taxed North Dakota that state aid is vital.

If state aid is cut, Stassen said, property taxes would increase, which "would definitely drive our businesses away."

President Eric Osberg of the Wadena Area Chamber of Commerce said that state aid helped his community respond to last June's tornado outbreak.

"An increase in revenue is essential," Osberg declared.

While the chamber board's decision was "a tough conversation," Osberg said, members realized "you can't just cut, cut, cut."

President Jim Currie of the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, which serves four Iron Range communities, said the Republican budget would especially hurt small employers. They could lose employees, he said, adding that then, those without jobs would stop spending money, which would hurt everyone.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.