Area lawmakers talk conflict at legislative breakfast
Minnesota West's fieldhouse project cut from bonding bill
WORTHINGTON -- Conflict dominated discussion between three area legislators and constituents at the Legislative Breakfast Saturday -- conflict between Democrats and Republicans, rural and Metropolitan interests, legislators and the governor and even between Minnesota's two legislative branches.
"This whole process is going to take time," said Minnesota Sen. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy), referring to balancing the state's budget. "I don't know the answer. I used to know the answer, but we used to have money."
The legislative breakfast, organized by the Chamber of Commerce, was Vickerman's last, as he plans to retire from his 24-year stint as a state senator after his term is complete.
Both District 22A Rep. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton) and District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) congratulated Vickerman on his retirement and praised him for his years of service to the state, particularly in the areas of agriculture and veterans assistance.
Apart from the positive comments directed at Vickerman, however, grim talk of budget cuts and frustration with the political process in general prevailed.
"It's a huge uphill battle," Hamilton said. "We're going to be making some very difficult decisions and it's going to affect all of us here in this room."
Some of those cuts have already occurred. Rick Shrubb, president of Minnesota West Community and Technical College, expressed his dismay that the college's proposed renovating of its fieldhouse, used for both academic and athletic programs, had been cut from the bonding bill.
"The fieldhouse is lost for the year" unless Gov. Tim Pawlenty uses a line-item veto to eliminate portions of the bill that was passed, Magnus said.
Hamilton noted that he had voted against the bonding bill because of its size and scope, but explained that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities had been told to cut $66 million from its projects, and that it had recommended the fieldhouse be cut.
"You ask them what proposals they brought out for the chopping block," Hamilton said.
Magnus said he agreed with Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar) who said southwest Minnesota had been thrown under the bus with the latest bonding bill.
Vickerman, too, was dismayed the project had been cut from the bonding bill.
"I voted for it the first time and the second time, and I know there's a lot of hurt in there for our area," Vickerman said. "But there was help in there for veterans. I couldn't vote against it."
Ron Wood, former president of Minnesota West, said he was more disturbed by the money that had already been poured into the fieldhouse project, which would now be wasted.
"The time, the partners, the trust that's broken. I'm absolutely flabbergasted... planning projects that don't make it? We can't afford it," Wood said. "... these are taxpayers' dollars, and they're wasted."
Magnus said many of the projects in the bill were included in order to get enough votes for the bill to pass. Hamilton agreed, noting the bill included $6 million for a sculpture garden in the Metro area and a snow machine for a park in Minneapolis.
"Whatever happened to us smaller areas?" Vickerman wondered. "Why don't we get something? I worked my heart out for that."
Vickerman said compromises had to be made in the bonding bill in order to fit in the governor's project for a sex offender facility in Moose Lake, because the governor threatened to veto the entire bill without it.
Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh referred to the recent vaccine created by Newport Labs, but asked legislators to stop the disparity between rural and Metro funding.
"If the disparity continues, why should Newport Labs stay?" Oberloh said.
District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard stated his concerns about education reform, and Hamilton echoed him with criticism of the legislative process.
"The process itself is ugly," Hamilton said. "The (Capitol) reeks of seniority."
Hamilton also wondered whether Minnesota West's project was taken from the bonding bill because he and Magnus didn't vote for the bill.
"I hate to stand before you and say it's over, but the bonding bill is probably the way it's going to be," Vickerman said. "I'm going to put some legislation together to see you get that (fieldhouse) next year."
As chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Veterans Committee, Vickerman was asked to cut $18 million from ag and veterans programs, but with his committee, convinced Senate leadership to only make $8 million in cuts to those areas.
Magnus was also frustrated with the difference between the House and Senate versions of some bills, and said the legislative leadership had developed a habit of presenting bills at the last minute, preventing debate and citizen input.
"We get all this policy saying an agency shall do this and must do that... and have no money to do it with," Magnus said. "The left hand can't figure out what the far left hand is doing here!"
Magnus said he believed Democrats were holding bills back in order to force a vote on increasing taxes, and noted he believed it was designed to hurt Pawlenty, a Republican who may run for president.
"Together, the Senate, the House, Republicans and Democrats, together, we can salvage some of this," Vickerman said. "We can't salvage all of it. The hole is too deep."
"There will be tax increase proposed. There's no question of that," Magnus said, but added he was most worried that bills would continue to be held until the last minute in order to squelch debate.
"Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of people in the legislature are great people," Hamilton said. "... everybody's taking this very seriously."