Ups, downs and wins highlight sessionHamilton, Magnus and Vickerman speak at Chamber breakfast event
By: Kari Lucin, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The 2008 legislative session was filled with ups, downs and uncomfortable compromises, agreed all three of the area’s Minnesota state legislators at the Legislative Breakfast Friday, but there were victories, too.
The constant battle for money dominated the discussion, which touched on assisted living facilities, education funding and disparities between Metro and rural funding.
The breakfast at the Worthington Country Club, organized by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee, was attended by District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), District 22A Rep. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton) and District 22 Sen. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy).
The only written question sent to the Chamber in advance of the meeting regarded the possibility of cost restrictions for assisted living facilities, and stated the cost restrictions would hurt those facilities just as much as the restrictions currently on nursing homes.
None of the lawmakers were familiar with any current bills that would restrict assisted living costs.
“It’s a strange situation,” Vickerman said. “Nursing homes are closing. They just don’t make enough money.”
Hamilton stated he was concerned about unfunded mandates that could affect costs for assisted living and nursing home, describing such mandates as having a “gotcha” mentality.
Magnus was concerned about the changing population of the area and said Minnesota lawmakers should think carefully about how they get involved with health care issues across the board.
Education funding was a hot-button topic as well. Hamilton emphasized the struggle between Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities for funding and noted he found out Minneapolis schools received 59 percent more money per pupil than Mountain Lake schools.
“That is just ludicrous,” Hamilton said.
Magnus, too, said he had seen a flyer from a Minneapolis representative touting his gains for Minneapolis schools — which received 46 percent more money per pupil than state average.
Vickerman reminded the community that Minneapolis schools do have major problems, including poverty and a high population of at-risk students. He also stated lawmakers should allow school boards to run the schools rather than making laws for everything.
“I’d leave you a word of caution for school administrators,” Vickerman warned. “(You got a funding increase of) $51 (per pupil) this year. Don’t count on anything next year.”
Client Community Services Inc. Executive Director Marty Rickers thanked legislators for their efforts in putting a moratorium on charging nonprofits property taxes after a state Supreme Court ruling in 2007. The ruling would have cost CCSI an estimated $150,000 and forced it to increase its rates, Rickers said.
“I never would have even known that was going to be an issue if you hadn’t brought that to my attention,” Hamilton told Rickers, thanking him for his efforts, and the other two lawmakers agreed.
The give-and-take at the Capitol this year mostly concerned budgets, however.
“There’s no extra money, and if this economy doesn’t turn around, we’ll have to make some real cuts,” Vickerman said.
Summarizing the bonding session, Hamilton noted there had been many local funding wins — the City of Worthington and Jackson County both received money for projects, the Windom dam received some funding and Minnesota 60 was included in the transportation bill.
Early on, Vickerman worried the session would become a fight between legislators and the governor, but said when he started listening to the people in his district, he found they just wanted him to do the best he could for the region. Vickerman focused on veterans’ issues and repeated that funding would be hard to come by in the next year.
Vickerman also expressed relief that a motion to adopt the California emissions standards had not passed.
“You can’t even idle your car to warm it up in the wintertime,” Vickerman said.
Magnus initially worried that Greater Minnesota would be “steamrollered by the Metro leaders of both the Senate and the House.” He also stated relief that the Lewis and Clark water project was finally funded, calling the money battle an exercise in “how to squeeze blood out of a turnip.”
Magnus, like the other legislators, was concerned about spending down the state’s reserves.
“We’re going to have significant challenges facing us next year,” Magnus warned.