DFL, GOP debate issues at forum
Republicans want government out of business' way so it can grow jobs, while Democrats want a return to tax fairness -- taxing the wealthy -- that will create new jobs.
Both ways, they say, will help solve a $6 billion state budget deficit.
Local House and Senate candidates debated the issue Thursday night at Bemidji City Hall in a forum sponsored by Citizens for an Informed Electorate, a committee of community members interested in bringing candidate views to the public through forums.
Answering questions from the audience were Senate 2 Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and his Republican challenger Dennis Moser of Clearbrook; Senate 4 Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and her Republican challenger John Carlson of Bemidji; House 2B Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL_Park Rapids, and her Republican challenger John Carlson of Bemidji; and, House 4A Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and his Republican challenger Richard Lehmann.
"People tell me three basic things," said Hancock. "One, I pay enough taxes, please don't tax me anymore. Two, bring government spending under control and (three) we need more jobs."
Minnesota is the fifth-highest per capita taxing state in the nation, Hancock said, citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
"We need to make the state kore business-friendly," said Lehmann. "We should look at cutting everything government should not be involved in. When times were good, and we had money, it was easy to fund just about everything."
And the state needs to look at creating jobs to increase the revenue, he said. "When you get the two of them combined, I think we take care of most of the problem."
But the Democrats say it will take a "balanced approach" to solve a $6 billion deficit, which includes a gap of nearly $4 billion in delayed payments to schools and one-time federal aid.
"We sent the governor a balanced budget," said DFLer Skoe. "He signed the spending bills and vetoed the tax bill which would have paid for what we spent. ... It took hard votes, but we paid for the spending we were going to do."
That budget included $1.8 billion in cuts and no spending shifts, he said, adding that the Senate will probably work on a similar bill next year.
"We're going to look at raising some revenue," said Skoe. A couple billion dollars will come in a progressive tax system that sees more revenue from the wealthy, come cuts and taking advantage of some federal funding if possible.
"Currently in the tax structure in Minnesota, the highest income earners in our state pay a significantly smaller percentage of their income in taxes than anybody else," he said. "Just for fairness' sake we ought to fix that."
Most small businesses in the area are affected by health care costs and property taxes, said Olson. "Small businesses in this state and businesses across the board are well situated compared to other regions, and is probably why more Fortune 500 companies start up here than any other state in the country."
The most important thing Minnesota has going for it is a well-educated worforce, she said.
"What government needs to do is get out of the way," said Lehmann. "Small businesses and businesses in general with people who make investments create jobs."
Regulations need to be limited, said Republican Carlson, saying that hundreds of people on the Iron Range are being denied work because of state pollution control and federal environmental barriers for a non-ferrous underground mine.
"It's a travesty," he said.
"I'm not in favor of tax incentives," Carlson said. "That's government manipulating and getting in the way of businesses. We need to eliminate tax credits, we need to eliminate tax incentives, we need to eliminate or reduce substantially the taxes that they pay and more importantly, the regulations that inhibit their growth and their start-ups."
"I take issue with this part about government spending," Sailer said. "It's the people that we're providing the services for, not the government."
State departments need to be put more on task to serve the people of Minnesota, she said.
In education, Carlson said eliminating the federal Department of Education would allow many mandates to be removed from schoold districts, vastly improving their financial situations.
"People who believe unions are the problem are missing the boat," said Persell of teacher unions. "We aren't including early education. We don't have these children ready for school they way they should be, and we aren't properly funding."
All the Republicans said they would not accept federal funding for early Medicaid enrollment, a $1.4 billion item.
"There's too many times, especially from the federal government, a one-time handout and once you begin to depend on that, then they cut the money off," Moser said. "A lot times a short-term answer causes a lot of long-term problems."
Olson took off after Carlson for his being president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, a group she said is in the top 1 percent of lobbyists in the country. It's a conflict of interest, she said.
"There you go again," Carlson said, borrowing a Ronald Reagan line, adding that if elected he would resign the post. "A problem Sen. Olson has is she just doesn't listen."
All the candidates said they would not support a state-run casino, and all said they support enforcement of immigration laws and do npt support sanctuary city status for Minneapolis and St. Paul.