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Sertich pledges competitive races

Minnesota House Democrats pledge competitive races this fall, as a $6 billion state budget deficit looms.

"We're going to be very competitive," House Majority Leader Tony Sertich said Friday in an interview. "Minnesotans should know by now, Democrats stand up for middle class bread and butter issues and really focus on the economy."

Democrats don't plan to conduct name-calling or labeling this fall but focus instead on solution, he said.

"We offer solutions," Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said. "That's really what's been missing for a long time with my friends on the other side of the aisle. They'll talk in sound bites but they won't tell you what they're going to do until they get there."

Sertich stands in line to become speaker, provided the DFL keeps its majority margin in the House.

Bemidji has a targeted race in trying to re-elect a freshman lawmaker, Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and having a popular mayor of Bemidji, Republican Richard Lehmann, running against him.

"He's done well for the community," Sertich said of Persell. "People just have great things to say about him. He really hit the ground running and worked up to speed on issues around natural resources and education and issues that are important to the community. He just jumped in with both feet and got to work."

Lehmann is holding a meet and greet session for people at 7 p.m. today at the Cabin Coffeehouse, featuring House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

Having Gov. Tim Pawlenty leave after eight years means

"it's good to turn the page and get Gov. Pawlenty in our rearview mirror," Sertich said. "We've been in his rearview mirror for awhile."

With a new governor, the House DFL agenda remains the same, he said.

"We bring what we've always brought -- we know that Minnesotans care most about the economy and jobs," Sertich said. "We're really about bread-and-butter issues. We kind of stick to the basics. It's about our kids and our schools and investments in our future. It's about our seniors in nursing homes and infrastructure."

All the issues seem to be tied around jobs, he added.

Democrats have placed a balanced budget on the table for four years, he said, but only to find Republican Pawlenty's veto because of tax increases used to find that balance.

"If our balanced budgets were passed into law and signed by the governor, we wouldn't have as big a problem as we do today," Sertich said. "This is important as well for our small businesses."

The House started a small business caucus to look at ways to help that industry, he said. "They are really the engine of our economy. And property taxes is a huge issue, and as Democrats, we're the ones fighting to keep property taxes low."

That includes keeping Local Government Aid at levels where police and fire services aren't affected and in holding down property taxes, which adversely affect seniors on fixed incomes and small business.

"It's a big cost driver for small businesses," Sertich said. "It's the first time in our state's history where property taxes are the largest amount of money collected. That's the little white lie going around with Gov. Pawlenty when he says no new taxes when that really means pushing the problem down to local cities."

That will be a challenge for Lehmann, Sertich said, as he has been a strong supporter of LGA and yet as a Republican he would go down to St. Paul and cut state spending.

"If he's not going to cut LGA, which he's been on record, and if you're not going to cut schools, not going to cut hospitals and nursing homes, there's nothing left in that budget," Sertich said.

"We're going to have that honest discussion, and that's what you should expect from Democrats this year is an honest discussion on those important issues," he said.

In looking at the looming deficit, Sertich says the Republicans offer only "to cut our way out of this." But when 20 percent of the state budget is deficit, that chore becomes hard without impacting schools, college tuition, seniors in nursing homes.

"Nobody's ever solved a deficit this large with just cuts alone," Sertich said. With even a $1 billion deficit last session, Pawlenty still borrowed money from schools.

"We're going to be upfront and honest about a balanced budget approach," he said. "We're going to need some revenue but we're also going to make some cuts. There's still some cuts in there."

Sertich says he prefers income tax increases. "It's a fair way to do it when you look at the top tier not paying the same percentage as the rest of us have."

He backed off when asked if he would go as far as DFL gubernatorial nominee Mark Dayton in raising income taxes on incomes over $130,000.

"That's down the road," Sertich said. "We'll be able to work with Mark Dayton in figuring out what needs to be done."

On the other side, he said, Pawlenty has been in office for eight years, populated appointed offices with friends and former legislators who bashed government while taking a government job.

"Between all of his political appointees and folks he's hired with connections, you could literally save millions of dollars by getting rid of all that bureaucracy," Sertich said. "There are still ways to cut, but Gov. Pawlenty wasn't going to cut his friends."

Sertich said he's rather cut a political appointee than a nurse or firefighter or teacher. "We're going to look at a balanced approach. That's how it's always been in Minnesota with Republican governors, DFL governors before Pawlenty."

Expenses are the same to schools and other government programs, it's less revenue that is the problem, he said. More jobs creates more tax revenue.

"The reason we have the deficit is a jobs issue," he said. "We need to make those smart investments that are going to help us in our economy. ... When the governor vetoed the bonding bill, he vetoed jobs, basically, that would have been construction workers having paychecks instead of unemployment checks."