Hamilton visits Worthington’s MeadowsWORTHINGTON — After apologizing profusely for his late arrival, District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton spent nearly an hour Tuesday morning visiting with constituents at a coffee event at Ecumen-Meadows, reflecting on the last legislative session and taking questions from those in attendance.
By: Ryan McGaughey, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — After apologizing profusely for his late arrival, District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton spent nearly an hour Tuesday morning visiting with constituents at a coffee event at Ecumen-Meadows, reflecting on the last legislative session and taking questions from those in attendance.
“I’ve been part of seven legislative sessions, and this one was the most difficult,” said Hamilton, a fourth-term Republican legislator from Mountain Lake.
“When we started this year, there was a $5.2 billion budget deficit, and it was a monumental task to say the least to balance that. We had marching orders to reduce spending by $1.5 billion, and in order to get that accomplished ... there were a lot of very difficult decisions that had to be made.”
Early in his remarks, Hamilton admitted that he missed a paragraph in legislation that resulted in him voting for a reduction in funding for people with disabilities — a mistake, he said, that was extremely painful for him.
“I take pride in reading the bills and becoming educated, and then making a sound decision,” Hamilton said. “In the haste of it all, I missed a small paragraph that reduced funding for people with disabilities that were considered low-need.
I met with a very good friend, Marty Rickers (formerly of Worthington’s Client Community Services Inc.) — it was very difficult. I said, ‘I’m sorry — I missed that, my friend.’ I want to right that wrong.”
Hamilton added that there were some accomplishments to take pride in this past session.
“For the first time in seven years, we’ve actually seen a decrease in funding disparities for nursing homes and rural schools,” he noted. “We also passed a bill that increased reimbursements to low-rate receivers on nursing homes. … Maybe that means another employee, higher wages or funding some repairs.”
Additionally, Hamilton explained that work was done to bring some rural schools additional per-pupil-unit money. Still, despite the successes, Hamilton made it clear that there is corrective work that needs to be done in some areas.
“We’re doing our due diligence to understand the implications of our actions,” he said. “We will also continue to be responsible when it comes to spending all your money.”
Hamilton told the roughly 40 people in attendance that he had meet with Worthington city officials earlier Wednesday to discuss issues such as property taxes and local government aid. He then asked attendees of the coffee event what they thought of proposals to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings football team.
“What the Vikings are saying is that if we weren’t here, you’re going to lose that revenue we bring in, so use that money to build a stadium,” Hamilton explained. “But if we were going to use that concept, that leaves a void of those dollars that go to education and other areas, so we’d have to make that up in some way or form.”
Hamilton said he believes the Vikings need to make a significant financial contribution toward a new stadium, and that there also needs to be a host community that supports the project from a revenue standpoint. Some type of user fee should also be a part of the equation, “but no money would come from the general fund,” he stressed.
Hamilton spoke at length about stadium funding coming from a racino — a plan that, he said, could provide money for not only a Vikings facility but for much more.
“Let’s bring in a little competition,” Hamilton said, indicating his support for a racino. “The racino is something I’ve looked hard at. … I think what people don’t look at is, of the taxes generated (through the Vikings), a lot of that comes from out of state. We’d lose a great deal of revenue if the Vikings left.”
Hamilton spoke for a short while on the need to go back and examine ways to correct rapidly increasing property taxes for agricultural land in lieu of the elimination of the Homestead Market Value Credit.
“We’re going back and reviewing that to see what we can do to address that very thing in the next session,” he said.
It wasn’t long, however, before discussion in the room returned to the subjects of the Vikings and the racino.
“For individuals on the far right of the equation — the ultra-conservatives, the social conservatives — they say, ‘we don’t want to vote for it because we don’t believe in gambling,” Hamilton said. “On the other side of the equation, there is a ridiculous amount of dollars that come from the tribes that go toward political campaigns. Those legislators do not want to support that in fear of losing those campaign contributions. That’s the harsh reality.”
Hamilton later talked more about the need to return — and boost funding — for those with disabilities, adding that his having multiple sclerosis has given a new perspective on such matters.
Near the end of the event, he remembered the late Worthington resident Hardy Rickbeil, who lived at The Meadows at time of his death, and said he frequently remembers advice Rickbeil gave him at the time of a state financial crisis.
“I asked, ‘Hardy, what advice do you have for me?’ and he said, ‘I’ll keep it simple,’” Hamilton stated. “Number one, don’t spend any more money that what you have. Number two, understand needs versus wants. Number three, make sure you fully understand the implications of your actions. Rod, if you make cuts or make reductions, you’re going to hurt somebody or affect somebody, and if you raise taxes, you’re going to hurt somebody or affect somebody. … I think of Hardy’s advice often.”