Entenza chides Republicans for failed opportunities
WORTHINGTON -- Hours before he was scheduled to appear back at the Capitol Sunday afternoon to help put the finishing touches on a budget bill, Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, conducted a hastily-prepared press conference at the Worthington Regional Airport.
Pleased that stadium issues were addressed for the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota, Entenza said he was disappointed at several missed opportunities. Most importantly, he said, the Legislature failed to provide permanent tax relief for taxpayers, failed to solve a school funding problem and also failed to help Minnesotans struggling with rising health care costs.
"I'm disappointed that stadiums dominated when schools got nothing, health care got nothing and there is no permanent property tax relief, which we think should have been our top priorities," Entenza described the Democrats' position.
Republicans and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, he said, stood in the way of property tax relief, preferring "gimmicks" like rebates.
"We had asked for Local Government Aid (LGA) for Worthington and other cities, and for $143 million in reductions in school property taxes," Entenza said. "We wound up very sadly with no agreement on all that. We were very disappointed in that."
Without LGA funds, rural communities will have to find new sources of funding for police and fire protection -- funding that used to be offset by LGA payments, the Minority Leader said.
"The cuts to Local Government Aid have been very hard for Worthington and other area towns. ... And the huge cuts have kept our law enforcement levels down, and they've raised property taxes. I am just immensely disappointed for rural Minnesota that the governor wasn't interested in restoring Local Government Aid now that we have a surplus," Entenza said.
"Where the governor lives, in Eagan, they don't need that kind of Local Government Aid. But communities like Worthington can't be competitive with Edina and Eagan without LGA to pay for police or fire protection. (Pawlenty) thinks rural communities should pay for local services largely through property taxes," concluded Entenza, a former Worthington resident.
Despite his reservations on some issues, Entenza declared himself pleased with the Legislature's overall effort. He noted that the bonding bill passed Saturday night provided maintenance money for Minnesota West Community and Technical College, and $10,000 was clinched at 3 a.m. Sunday for a veterans' memorial in Worthington.
Lawmakers secured the bonding bill at 2 a.m. Sunday and the tax bill at 4 a.m., Entenza said. The all-nighter adjourned at 7 a.m., and by 10:30, Entenza was boarding a plane for a southern Minnesota swing. In Worthington, he announced that legislators are behaving themselves much better than they did in 2004 and 2005, when partisanship and bickering won the day.
"I think after the total disasters of '04 and '05, the people are getting along better now," he said. "I think there's a recognition that people needed to get along by following the Golden Rule."