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Area lawmakers address deficit

Outgoing Sen. Jim Vickerman (left) and Rep. Rod Hamilton address local leaders during Friday morning's legislative breakfast at the Worthington Country Club. The event was hosted by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce.

WORTHINGTON -- The state's budget deficit, immigration and welfare dominated the discussion at Friday's legislative breakfast, as area lawmakers met with city and county leaders at the Worthington Country Club.

Rep. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton), Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) and outgoing Sen. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy) weighed in on the legislative session that ended in May.

"The budget problem consumed all of our efforts. We did nothing to really tackle what we call structural deficits," Magnus commented, referring to increased spending alongside flat revenues.

He also explained his decision to run for Vickerman's seat, citing the gap left by Vickerman and other experienced legislators who will leave at the end of this year.

"I looked at these four people as some of the more common-sense folks you could work with," he said. "That, to my mind, left the biggest void."

Hamilton briefly referenced the delay in K-12 education funding and growing budget deficit, and thanked Vickerman for his 24 years of service.

"I have learned a lot from Jim ... about being able to hold your ground and still be approachable," he said.

"For some reason, this year we thought we could do everything with the federal government, all the stimulus funds," Vickerman said of the session. "And who is the federal government? It's us."

The senator also expressed concerns about the shifting of funds to plug the state's growing budget deficit and the possibility U.S. taxpayers may end up footing the bill for the Gulf coast oil spill.

"With so much of the budget being education and human services, how do you expect to get us out of this hole?" asked Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh.

"If we would cut every other department, we still would not be able to address the deficit," agreed Hamilton, saying he advocated stopping government waste.

"There are 16 government entities that are all doing pretty much the same thing when it comes to testing and monitoring water quality. And there's definitely some cost savings there," Hamilton said. "There are so many different pots of money; we just look at the general fund. ... We need to go deep into these government agencies and take a look at all the revenues that coming into the state and all the spending."

Hamilton said the state should not tax its way out of the $5 billion-plus deficit, and may not be able to cut its way out, either.

"It's going to take a combination to get us back to where we want to be," Vickerman added, saying he's received an increasing number of calls from handicapped or nursing home-bound folks looking for help -- help that can't be funded.

"At the start of the session everyone was talking jobs," Magnus said. "And that got pushed aside, too."

Hamilton said another problem is the state's generosity when it comes to welfare programs.

"We have people coming to Minnesota not for jobs, not for our schools, but for welfare," Hamilton said. "Well, I'm gimpy and I have two full-time jobs."

While emphasizing the need for a "safety net" for the state's most vulnerable residents, he said "people making a career of the welfare system, it takes away from the people who have a more difficult time taking care of themselves."

Hamilton, who serves on the Chicano/Latino Affairs Committee in the House, said those on all sides of the immigration debate agree the borders need to be secured -- especially because of those who seek to bodily harm Americans.

Attendees also asked about achieving uniform hauling permits for county roads across the state and about the SAFE Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008.

But like the legislative session, the legislative breakfast ended with a focus on the deficit.

"The way we are doing business as a state cannot be sustained," concluded Magnus. "The spending has got to change."