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Workshop discussses ways to solve challenges facing government

Area residents and members of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce gathered to discuss what values and priorities are important for solving Minnesota's state government budget challenges on Wednesday at Bemidji City Hall.

The workshop, titled "Common Cents," centered on tax reform and was put together by the Citizens League, a non-partisan organization dedicated to creating common ground across parties and ideologies to solve problems and challenges facing Minnesota.

Stacy Becker, a consultant with the Citizens League, led the presentation and talked about the state budget and why budget shortfalls occur.

According to Becker, the purpose of the working meeting was to help Minnesotans better grasp the state's fiscal issues in a community conversation and give citizens a voice on the issues presented.

Participants formed groups and Becker presented budget statistics and information before posing a question. After the question was presented, multiple choices were given as answers. The participants could choose their answers on an electronic device and the results were projected on a screen.

"There are obviously no right or wrong answers for any of the questions," Becker said.

In attendance was Mayor Dave Larson, who was interested in taxation issues and getting input from others.

I think the whole discussion was very good," Larson said. "We all have a better understanding of where other people are at and how that compares with what we personally have as an opinion."

Larson also said the results of the discussion were more diverse than he anticipated.

One of the questions asked the participants how they would find a way to spend less state money. Across the board budget cuts for state employees and agencies was the most popular answer.

Wayne Tieman also participated in the meeting and thought hearing the opinions of other people was very helpful in working towards common solutions.

"I'm very interested in state government and how they can come to good solutions as far as keeping taxes down and also to cut spending and to balance the budget," Wayne said.

The Citizens League is holding the workshops throughout Minnesota until November. Results from the discussion will be sent directly to Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators to help shape the debate about the best ways to solve the state's financial difficulties.

Another workshop will be held today at 7:30 a.m. at Bemidji City Hall.