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DFL legislators visit, pan GOP colleagues

WORTHINGTON -- A trio of Minnesota House DFL legislators visited the Daily Globe on Wednesday as part of a southwest Minnesota tour, condemning the proposed budget of state Republicans in the midst of an impasse in negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton.

Democrats Tim Mahoney of St. Paul, Terry Morrow of St. Peter and Lyle Koenen of Clara City all decried the effect the GOP budget plan would have on Worthington, citing estimates based on non-partisan budget analysis by the Minnesota House Research Department, the Minnesota Department of Revenue and the League of Minnesota Cities.

Figures presented by the three state representatives show the following Worthington impacts in the next biennium under the proposed GOP budget:

* Local government aid: $536,000.

* Hospitals (Sanford Worthington Medical Center): $1.4 million.

* Higher education (Minnesota West Community and Technical College): 14 percent, or what the DFL legislators said would be the "largest cut in Minnesota history."

* K-12 schools: $127,000.

"If there was a balanced solution, I'd vote for it," Morrow, a third-term legislator, said. "I'm not voting for this."

"We're at a crossroads," Mahoney, a member of the Minnesota House since 1999, stated. "We can either go one way and kind of race to the bottom, or you can start reinvesting in the state of Minnesota.

"For the last 10 years, Republicans in Minnesota have been squeezing the middle class ... and the wealthy have not been adversely affected," Mahoney continued.

Republicans have repeatedly objected to Dayton's plan to raise taxes on Minnesota's wealthiest citizens. Mahoney explained the Democratic governor began with a proposal that increased taxes on the richest 5½ percent, and is now proposing a tax increase on the wealthiest 2 percent.

"There are about 9,600 taxpayers in Nobles County -- 103 would see an increase," Mahoney said.

Compounding the situation in St. Paul, the three legislators agreed, is a lack of flexibility from their colleagues across the aisle.

"I hear the Republican caucus saying 'this is our last, best offer' ... but they've been offering the same thing since January," Morrow said.

District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, disputes notions of Republicans' refusals to negotiate.

"When Gov. Dayton outlined his budget priorities, he suggested we enact a multi-billion tax increase in order to craft a $37 billion budget," Hamilton wrote in a letter to the editor published in Tuesday's Daily Globe.  "Since then, we've learned that Minnesota is expected to collect roughly $34 billion without needing to raise anyone's taxes.

"The Minnesota House majority then made a bold move towards compromise with the governor," Hamilton added. "Rather than sticking to our initial position of spending no more than the previous $31 billion budget, we decided to meet Governor Dayton halfway and propose a $3 billion increase in spending for a total budget of $34 billion."

The GOP's $34 billion budget plan for the next two years was vetoed Tuesday by Dayton, who now proposes a $35.8 billion budget. A total of $1.8 billion of that would come from tax increases from the top 2 percent of Minnesota wage earners.

Under the Republicans' plan, according to Mahoney and Morrow, fallout would include growing K-12 class sizes, higher tuition for higher education, increased costs and/or fewer services at nursing homes, higher property taxes for residences and local businesses, and a funding for state higher education at 1998 levels despite 40,000 more students in the system.

"You end up playing chicken with middle class of Minnesota," Mahoney said.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, offered a different point of view.

"The budget bills on Gov. Dayton's desk put the brakes on automatic increases in spending and send a positive message to businesses, investors and job creators that state government will not tax you into another state," Michel said Tuesday.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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