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House candidates differ over budget fix

Minnesota House Democrats want to include "new revenues" in state budget solutions, while Republicans seek job growth and government reorganization.

House 4A candidates Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and Republican challenger Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann, and House 4B Rep. Larry Howes, -R-Walker, and DFL challenger Meg Bye of Pequot Lakes squared off Thursday night in telecast debates on Lakeland Public Television.

Persell said the DFL position of last session, vetoed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, would probably be tried again next year. It called for a mixture of tax increases, spending cuts and borrowing.

"That is a balanced approach," he said. "I very much believe we're going to need to have some revenue, which means tax increases -- I'll say it. Others are not willing to say that, but we can't cut our way out of this."

About 75 percent of the state budget is education and health and human services, he said. Another 10 percent is property tax and credits and 6 percent public safety, 3 percent debt service and 2 percent state government.

"Where are you going to cut?" Persell asked.

Minnesota needs a fair tax system, he said, "the highest earners are not paying their fair share; they're paying a lower percentage than those of us who are in the middle or lower class are paying."

"You can't cut your way out of this deficit, I understand that," Lehmann said. "We also have to look at what the opportunities are out there. You can't buy yourself out of a recession, either."

The state has an obligation for a balance budget, so it shouldn't borrow, either, he said. "There can be no stones unturned on this one."

While reluctant to cut education and noting that Local Government Aid will probably be looked at for cuts, which he opposes, Lehmann said everything has to be on the table.

"We need to create an environment that will allow us to create the jobs, whether it's in the forestry industry, manufacturing industry or anywhere else," Lehmann said.

Democrats have said that the state can't tax its way or cut its way out of the deficit, Democrat Bye said. "There has to be a balance. ... We keep digging ourselves into a hole and we can't continue to do that."

She said there needs to be "an increase of revenues coming into the state."

Much work has been done to cut state government, schools and health care. "There may be some places there that need to be cut, however, I do believe that we are going to have to be very careful of what the future costs of the cuts that we make are going to be," Bye said.

The eventual new governor will have to work with the Legislature for a solution, she said.

With a worldwide recession, the budget solution won't be simple, said Howes, seeking his seventh term.

Pawlenty's unallotments of a year ago were made permanent, yielding $1.7 billion. That plus $2 billion in expected new revenues will give $3.7 billion to help the deficit, Howes said. "If we held the line on the current spending, which is about $30.5 billion, we're getting close."

A problem is an anticipated $4.5 billion decline in federal funding in the next biennium, he said.

"If I'm looking at the state not having enough money to do the things it wants or people not having, I'm going to make sure that the people of my district in Minnesota keep the money that they have, and the state is going to have to get by," Howes said. "They are going to have to create jobs and an economic climate to get our people working more, so we have the payroll."

Bye said that for every dollar decline in state taxes, property taxes go up 67 cents. "It is the people who pay property taxes that are losing money."

Both Persell and Lehmann said they would fight for Local Government Aid, with Lehmann saying he would part from the party to give that support.

Media panelists included Dennis Weimann, news director of Lakeland News; Brad Swenson, political editor of the Bemidji Pioneer; and, Scott Hall, news director of KAXE Community Radio.

Tonight's debates feature Senate 2 candidates Sen. Rod Skoe and Dennis Moser at 8 p.m. and House 2B candidates Rep. Brita Sailer and David Hancock.