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Stalemate over budget; Lawmakers offer views to prevent government shutdown

From left, Warren Larson, a Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce director, moderates a forum Friday morning with Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook; Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji; Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji; and Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

The Republicans and Democratic Farmer-Labor members of the Minnesota House and Senate, along with Gov. Mark Dayton, remain in stand-off mode on the biennium budget.

Dayton, backed by the DFLers, insists on adding to the income tax of the richest 2 percent of the state's population in order to raise revenue. The Republicans remain dug in on $34 billion in expenditures and no additional taxes.

Without an agreement before July 1, state government will shut down, a state of affairs neither side favors.

Sens. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and John Carlson, R-Bemidji, and Reps. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, and John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, restated their positions and arguments Friday morning during a public forum sponsored by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce to a standing-room-only audience at the Cabin Coffeehouse and Café.

The exact impact of a government shutdown isn't totally clear, but all four legislators agree such a move would be bad for everyone.

"I don't see anything good happening with government shutdown," said Persell.

"You can be sure it's going to be a significant disruption of Minnesota life," Skoe said.

"The governor just needs to sign the balanced budget we gave him - it's simple," said Carlson. "The shutdown of the government is on the governor's shoulders. He refuses to come to the table."

"Primarily, our government's responsibility is to provide the opportunity to preserve liberty," said Hancock. "That starts with being fiscally responsible, living within your means."

Hancock reiterated the point that the $34 billion biennium budget Republicans propose would be the biggest in Minnesota history and a 6 percent increase over current spending.

Persell said he would endorse taxing the richest Minnesotans more "whether we need it or not. I think everybody needs to pay their fair share."

Skoe also emphasized the tax fairness issue citing statistics showing that the richest 2 percent of the population earn 46 percent of the money, but pay 37 percent of the taxes.

Carlson said he will work for a "First Things First" amendment, which would require the legislators to prioritize and "come to some agreement up front how much we're going to spend, and then divvie it up."

Skoe pointed out that Minnesota's cost of government has steadily decreased from 17.9 percent of the budget in the 1990s to 15.9 percent currently. At the same time, he said the state is 39th per capita in the number of public employees, but near the top in services. He also advocated for online sales sites, such as Amazon, to pay taxes the same as local businesses.

The four legislators closed the forum restating their determination to avoid a shutdown and work out an agreement.

"Let's at least get into the talking stage," said Hancock. "Time is running out."

"It's where the cuts are coming - that's the question," said Persell.

"As much as it seems there's a lot of acrimony, there's a lot we agree on," said Carlson.

'We just have fundamental disagreement about how we're going to work through this," said Skoe.