ST. PAUL – Bemidji plaid descended on the Minnesota state Capitol here Wednesday, where community leaders met with lawmakers about issues affecting the area.
About 50 people filling a bus arrived Wednesday morning for the eighth annual Bemidji Day at the Capitol.
In a series of whirlwind meetings, several small teams met with legislators as well as Gov. Mark Dayton and three of his commissioners.
Dayton, speaking in his office’s reception room, pitched his budget proposal prior to his State of the State address later Wednesday night. Among his proposals is to lower the sales tax rate while expanding the things that are taxed, increasing Local Government Aid funding and increasing income taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans.
“There is a lot of controversy about my budget and tax proposals, and I understand that, I accept that,” Dayton said.
Dayton told a story about last year’s Bemidji Day, when he was told that the city had to cut an employee. He said his proposal to increase LGA, including to Bemidji by $400,000 next year, would help local governments that face similar decisions.
Dave Hoefer, the Bemidji fire chief, met with a couple of legislators to discuss plans to establish a fire protection district made up of local government units in the Bemidji area. Hoefer is hoping to get legislative approval this year to establish the fee that would fund that entity.
The fire protection fee would be based on a building’s value and would apply to all properties in the district. That’s important because about half of Bemidji’s market value is exempt from property taxes. City officials have said it would allow them to reduce property taxes.
Hoefer said legislators he met with Wednesday were open to the concept.
“We aren’t getting the proverbial door in our face,” Hoefer said.
Lew Crenshaw, who chairs the Save the Carnegie Library committee, said he met with Rep. Paul Torkelson and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, who sit on their respective body’s Legacy committees.
Crenshaw said the committee plans to apply for Legacy grant funds for the Carnegie this year. The committee is working to raise $1.6 million to renovate the building.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, talked with Scotty Allison, the veterans affairs officer for Beltrami County, about a proposal to build a veterans home in Bemidji.
Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, introduced a bill this session to appropriate $250,000 for pre-design work for a 90-bed facility. Last year, Sanford Health announced it was donating 15 acres of its campus for the facility.
Proponents of a Bemidji veterans home point to the long distance to a similar facility in either Fargo or Silver Bay, Minn.
“If you look at the map of where the veterans homes are, it’s just blatant that there’s a big gap in the northwest,” Allison told Bakk.
Denelle Hilliard, executive director of Visit Bemidji, testified before a division of the senate finance committee Wednesday in support of Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism agency.
“There are a lot of rural communities that don’t have a lot of money to market their town or their area, and they’re capable of doing that by partnering with Explore Minnesota,” Hilliard said.
A larger group gathered later in the afternoon to hear from Myron Frans, Dayton’s revenue commissioner. He laid out the governor’s budget and tax proposals, which were revealed last month.
He said typical consumers won’t be affected much by the proposed sales tax expansion, because the overall rate will be lowered from 6.875 percent to 5.5 percent. He acknowledged that the proposal to implement a sales tax on clothing priced at more than $100 is controversial.
“By doing it this way it’s much more progressive than taxing all clothing,” Frans said.