BAXTER - Brainerd area business people weighed in on topics ranging from expanding government to public funding for a Vikings stadium Friday at a Brainerd Lakes Chamber-sponsored listening session with two lawmakers at Northland Arboretum.
On the listening end were Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, and Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, the chair of the House Commerce and Labor Committee.
Most of the session dealt with health insurance, government spending and other business topics but Ward asked the audience members their opinion about public funding for a new Vikings stadium - an issue that is under the jurisdiction of Atkins' committee.
In a show of a hands about half of the audience they might support some public funding or user fee for a Vikings stadium.
Atkins noted that with the state's huge deficit problems many legislative leaders were reluctant to even mention the Vikings soon-to-expire lease with the Metrodome. He marveled at Ward's willingness to bring the subject up.
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, and Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, the chair of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, listened to Brainerd Lakes Chamber members at Friday's listening session at Northland Arboretum.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"There's no fear," he said to Ward. "Whatever the topic is you bring it up."
Atkins said the Metrodome has one tenant left and a lease that will soon expire. He floated the possibility of a fee on tickets or Twin Cities alcohol sales. The idea would be that those who would most benefit from the stadium would pay the most, Atkins said.
"A beer is like $43 anyway," Atkins said with a smile.
Reggie Clow of Clow Stamping said some amount of state tax money or money generated by a user fee might be acceptable. Ward proposed a different idea.
"I'd rather they take some of that money and teach them how to hang on to the ball," Ward said.
There was little support demonstrated for full state funding of a Vikings stadium.
"I really believe it's going to be an issue down at the Capitol," Ward said. "We all get how a sports franchise is important."
Addressing more traditional business concerns, Karlo Goerges, CEO of Pequot Tool and Manufacturing Inc., addressed the disparity of government wages and benefits when compared to those of the private sector.
Karlo Goerges, CEO of Precision Tool and Manufacturing, Inc. of Pequot Lakes, pointed out Friday that government employee wages were considerably higher than those in the private sector at a listening session with Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, and Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd. Atkins is chair of the House Commerce and Labor Committee.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Jim Goerges, president and owner of Precision Tool Technologies Inc., pointed out the significant amount of government debt and the forthcoming departure from the work place of many Baby Boomers.
"How are we going to sustain what we're doing today?" he said. "This is significant it really does require immediate attention." Alan Gunsbury of the Quarterdeck talked about what he called problems brought about by the advent of casinos in Minnesota.
Cass County Commissioner Jim Demgen said county jails have plenty of beds for prisoners that the state could use. He also questioned why arraignments that take only a few minutes couldn't be done with a live video connection. Cass County is in partnership with Crow Wing County's jail and Cass sheriffs spend considerable time and expense transporting prisoners back and forth.
"We feel that can save a lot of money," Demgen said.
Mark Korte of Nor-Son Inc. called for the elimination of preferences in the awarding of construction contracts for minorities and economically disadvantaged people.
Several business people were receptive to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's idea of allowing health insurance companies sell their services across state lines.
Steve Mau of General Rental said Minnesota should let the market decide. Steve Lackner of Lakeland Mold agreed with loosening up the restrictions since most communication with insurance companies was done by phone or e-mail.
"I don't see any reasons we couldn't go across state lines," Lackner said.
Brent Gunsbury of Bercher Design and Construction, who is also the chamber president, compared government to Jabba the Hutt, the large character from "Star Wars."
"Government continues to grow," he said. "It just gets bigger ... A hatchet is sometimes the thing we need to use. Small cuts here and there are sometimes not going to do it."
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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