Lawmakers talk $4.83 billion shortfallSen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, in a session she hosted Friday, asked the public for “creative ideas” that could help the Minnesota Legislature close a projected $4.83 billion deficit.
By: Bethany Wesley Bemidji Pioneer, Worthington Daily Globe
Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, in a session she hosted Friday, asked the public for “creative ideas” that could help the Minnesota Legislature close a projected $4.83 billion deficit.
Bemidji City Manager John Chattin wondered how genuine the Legislature is in its commitment to explore every idea.
Does Minnesota truly need every one of its 87 counties and all of its cities and townships, Chattin asked.
“Do you really think the Legislature is open to real fundamental changes?” he said.
Olson said the Legislature is committed to considering real changes, because cuts no longer will solve the state’s budget woes.
“We can’t just tweak around the edges anymore,” she said.
After Olson and freshman Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, spent more than an hour talking potential cuts with about 25 members of the business community, Chattin also asked why “revenue enhancements” – tax increases –were not being discussed.
Persell said nothing is off the table at this time.
Olson said the Legislature, along with the rest of Minnesota, is aware of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s famous “no new taxes” pledge.
But, Pawlenty himself has hinted at the use of some type of revenue enhancements to help cover a 20 percent deficit in the state’s budget, she said.
Without having yet seen Pawlenty’s budget proposal, Olson said, she is getting an idea that he may be willing to consider extending sales tax options to over clothing and food expenses.
“If I’m correct in reading between the lines, that is the kind of revenue enhancement the governor means, but I don’t know,” she said.
While reiterating her, and the Legislature’s, commitment to earnestly consider every possibility, Olson did say she did have some instinctual concerns that low-income people and families would have difficulty paying more for essentials such as food and clothing.
Olson opened the session by saying the focus of this year’s legislative session will be on economic stimulus and jobs.
The Senate, she said, is preparing to work with the federal government to get the most of its expected stimulus plan as possible.
“We need to do something about jobs,” Olson said.
Persell said he is still the “new kid on the block” and is working in committees right now.
For the public, he said, the best sign right now is that everyone seems poised for cooperation.
“The Senate and House together are appearing, to me, to be ready to work together,” he said.
Those who attended Friday’s session asked questions and voiced support for a comprehension revision of mandates, especially those required in education.
Bemidji School District Superintendent Jim Hess warned legislators of removing old, bad mandates and replacing them with new, bad mandates.
Hess said it is important that legislators talk to educators and administrators on proposals.
Hess referenced a new proposal that would require Minnesota school districts and charter schools to combine efforts to reduce costs, to pool their purchasing power to buy information technology, food services, supplies and equipment, operations, transportation and other goods and services.
Schools already are doing that, he said.
Olson said she appreciated the comments, adding that the proposal is just an idea right now and more feedback is needed.
Mayor Richard Lehmann also implored legislators to consider the impacts of cutting Local Government Aid, especially to cities that are regional centers like Bemidji.
The city, he said, is obligated to provide certain services such as police and fire protection,
But, those emergency vehicles need to be able to travel on roads even in winter, so there also is a necessity for the street department and infrastructure improvements, he noted.
“If we don’t have that funding … those services are going to suffer and everybody in this room is going to be affected negatively,” he said.
Day at the Capitol
Hosted by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, the Friday session also served to drum up support and attendance for Bemidji Day at the Capitol, which will be Wednesday, Feb. 18.
After the city’s success in securing $20 million in bonding for the Bemidji Regional Event Cnter, Chamber President Lori Paris said this year’s focus will be thanking legislators for their support.