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Prettner Solon calls for high-level senior services

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, right, DFL-Duluth, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton's running mate, visited Bemidji on Tuesday. Here she greets Virginia Pollard, left, and Isla Streeter at Birch Haven independent living facility. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Services for the elderly would be elevated to a spot in the lieutenant governor's office under a Mark Dayton administration, says his running mate.

"The senior population is going to increase by 40 percent in the next 10 years," Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, said Tuesday in an interview. "People over age 65 is the fastest growing population, outpacing the growth of our youngsters."

Prettner Solon, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton's choice for lieutenant governor, visited with the elderly at Birch Haven independent living facility in Bemidji, among other stops, Tuesday afternoon.

"Seniors have been productive all their lives," she said. "They've contributed to society, and we think we should help them age with dignity and allow their retirement years to be a little less stressful."

To that end, the Dayton administration would create a Senior Services Center in the office of the lieutenant governor.

"This would be a place that would coordinate all existing senior services and help seniors to negotiate those services and locate what it is they need more efficiently," Prettner Solon said.

She also visited with Laddie and Jim Elwell of the Headwaters Science Center, pledging that Dayton as governor would seek an early bonding bill to restore items vetoed last session by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Included in that bill and vetoed by Pawlenty was $700,000 in planning and design funds for a new $25 million Headwaters Science Center.

"Mark has stated that he wants to do an early bonding bill that would include all of the projects that had been vetoed in the last session," Prettner Solon said. "This is part of our jobs initiative to try to get jobs up and into the rural areas of the state as quickly as possible."

Lawmakers approved nearly $1 billion in public works projects last spring, but Pawlenty red-lined $313 million out of the bill, saying it was too spendy.

"It is so fascinating," Prettner Solon said of the Headwaters Science Center. Plans for an expanded center call for it being a regional gathering point for science, technology, math and engineering studies for students, and as a research center for water quality issues.

"Somehow it can tie in with an educational component, even as a science research center," she said, labeling it good bonding project. "There are some novel ideas in there that I had not experienced in the past."

With two weeks left in the campaign, Prettner Solon said she was "guardedly optimistic." She spent time with about a dozen volunteers at the DFL Headquarters in downtown Bemidji, including Rep. John Persell and Sen. Mary Olson, both DFL-Bemidji, encouraging hard work right up to Nov. 2.

"The only poll that matters is the one on Nov. 2," she said. "Our goal is to stay focused and continue to deliver our message and meet as many people as we possibly can."

That includes one of Dayton's first actions, if elected, in signing an agreement with the federal government to allow $1.4 billion in federal Medicaid aid to flow to Minnesota by entering the state in an early Medicaid program. The cost to the state: $188 million.

"Mark said he'll take his oath of office and sign the paper within minutes afterward," Prettner Solon said of the medical program for poor single adults.

"We are losing $890,000 every day we don't sign that," she said. "That's health care dollars going to Connecticut, Georgia and other states that could be coming to Minnesota. It's our health care dollars that could have been returned to us and instead are going to other states to pay for their health care."

Pawlenty refused to enroll Minnesota in the early Medicaid program, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer said he also would not accept the federal program and funding.

The biggest campaign issue is to solve a pending $6 billion budget deficit. Dayton's early plan of increasing taxes on couples making more than $130,000, he found out, would only raise about a quarter of what he thought.

"Mark is talking about increasing the tax for the top 4 percent of income earners who pay about 8 percent of their income in state and local taxes," Prettner Solon said. "Whereas, those of us in the middle class pay about 12.5 percent of our income in state and local taxes.

"Mark is just talking about fairness in the tax structure," she added. That will provide about $1.9 billion fill the budget deficit gap. "The rest will be taken care of through some cuts, some government redesign, some efficiencies -- and we still have a hole of about $800 million that we have to account for."

There have been better revenue statements in recent months, and Prettner Solon hopes that gap narrows.

By contrast, Republican Emmer would make up the difference by freezing spending and making cuts, while Independence Party candidate Tom Horner would expand the state's sales tax to clothing and reduce the rate by 1 percent.