BAXTER — Area lawmakers all agreed this year’s government shutdown was bad news but disagreed on how to prevent another one.
“We can’t have a state shutdown again,” Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, said.
Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, agreed the shutdown caused a lot of hardship. He said he is behind a bill that would call for a constitutional amendment that would allow state government to continue operating at what its current spending levels were. Carlson said he favored a bill that would continue state government at a slightly reduced level.
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, who pointed out he did not take his pay during the shutdown, urged caution when it came to constitutional amendments that might tie the hands of future legislatures. He said he preferred lawmakers to get serious and be honest about the need to compromise.
“The shutdown hurt people,” Ward said. “We don’t ever want that to happen again.”
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said he opposed a constitutional amendment to prevent a government shutdown and was lukewarm to legislation that would keep the lights on. His fear, he said, is that such legislation would allow legislators to just walk away if they couldn’t reach an agreement.
The lawmakers spoke at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber breakfast session Friday at the Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter.
Differences also surfaced in attitudes toward a bonding bill in the next session.
Gazelka urged caution since the federal government may cut funding to states if it decides to tackle its deficit.
“Bonding is borrowing,” Gazelka said. “It’s borrowing money. We don’t know what the federal government is going to do.”
Carlson, a member of the Senate’s Capital Investments Committee, said the state might have the capacity to pass a $350 million bonding bill if it were focused on infrastructure and not what he termed “I would love to have” projects.
The chair of the House Capital Investments Committee, Rep. Howes, predicted there would be a bonding bill that would cost somewhere between $350 and $500 million.
“I think we will be able to put one together,” he said.
Ward praised Howes’ work as chair of the bonding committee, stating that last session’s bill was fair and bipartisan.
“The bonding year is all about taking care of our state infrastructure,” Ward said.
Looking ahead to the session that begins in January, Gazelka said the projected surplus gives lawmakers a little breathing room. The projected surplus, he said, was largely attributable to the cuts that were made to slow down the spending in health and human services programs. He said lawmakers will address unintended consequences of the elimination of the homestead credit. He also pointed out the Legislature increased per pupil funding as it delayed payments to schools.
Carlson described legislation that would authorize a pilot program that would give counties more flexibility as they deal with state programs.
Glenn Wolf, a truck driver, said the condition of many state roads, particularly the interstates, damage both his body and his freight.
“Some of our roads are brutal for a truck driver,” he said.
Most of the legislators expressed their preference for money spent on roads and bridges rather than light rail projects.
Ward said investments were needed in health care, the environment and transportation.
“We need a balanced approach to the budget with revenue, cuts, reform and redesign (of government),” Ward said.
On the issue of a proposal that would use mileage rather than the gas tax to raise revenue, Gazelka said his preference would be that it would be revenue neutral. Howes said the idea was intriguing but doubted it could be revenue neutral since the idea was for it to bring in more revenue.
Crow Wing County Auditor-Treasurer Laureen Borden thanked lawmakers for maintaining the property tax refund for qualifying incomes. She suggested the Legislature look at the current penalty structures where commercial properties are penalized twice as much as homestead properties for late fees.
Kevin Stumpf, owner of the Country Kitchen, said money being considered for a Vikings stadium could be used by small businesses in Minnesota. Ward said it was important to help small businesses prosper and create jobs. Howes predicted that video pull-tabs might provide revenue for a Vikings stadium and he said he didn’t think Minnesota could afford to lose its NFL team.
“Can we afford to lose IBM, 3M, Anderson Brothers?” Carlson asked. “The state should not be in the business of picking winners and losers.”
The crowd applauded Carlson’s statement in its most demonstrative response to any of the legislators’ comments.
Gazelka’s parameters for a Vikings solution are that it involve no state tax dollars and that any local option tax be approved by the voters.
Ward said he is a co-author of a bill to give the Vikings the Metrodome and let them renovate it or build on that site.
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.