BAXTER -- Two Republican state senators told residents attending a Baxter Eggs and Issues forum Friday they were concerned about insufficient funding for education.
"I'm concerned with where we're going with education," said Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point.
Even though she was pleased Gov. Tim Pawlenty added more money to his education proposals after more favorable budget projections came in, she said she was worried about the direction of the state's education funding.
Ruud said she has parts of 16 school districts in Senate District 4, which she represents, and it was difficult to satisfy all of their needs.
Dave Johnson of Anderson Brothers Construction said many of the high school students are just a few years from being at his doorstep, looking for a job. He said Minnesota has been a leader in education for years. While Minnesotans want accountability, he said the educational "product" has been slipping.
He also criticized the Legislature's tendency to make big decisions late in the session when lawmakers are under a time crunch.
Ruud agreed with Johnson, noting her nickname for the omnibus bills is "ominous" bills. Too often, she said, the bills are rigged to create difficult votes for political opponents.
"They put carrots in the bill to make you vote for it," she said. "Those are (political) postcards for the next election."
Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, predicted education bill decisions would be made at the last minute.
"All the balls are still in the air," he said. "All the decisions will be made in the last three or four days. It's going to be a mad rush to the finish."
Ruud said an agreement might come later this week on the future of the Ah-Gwah-Ching medical facility near Walker.
She said the Senate version of the bill dealing with sexual predators has been watered down but she was hoping the House version would be tougher so a stronger bill can emerge from a conference committee bill.
"Hanging them from the golden horses in the Capitol is fine with me," she said, noting the governor might have problems with that plan for the most heinous offenders.
Koering said Minnesota has always been a leader in education and the state needs to look to the future in this area.
He also said he's introduced a bill to make teachers essential employees and prevent them from striking. He said he wants to prevent situations such as the teachers' strike in the Crosby-Ironton School District.
"This is tearing this community apart and it's wrong," he said.
The area's state House members were not able to attend the session because of conflicts with committee meetings.
The breakfast forum was sponsored by the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce.
Koering reported progress for his bill designating Highway 371 as the Purple Heart Memorial Highway and his video voyeurism bill that involves increased penalties for violating individuals' privacy.
He said his bill related to the state fair was an attempt to prevent "over zealous" Department of Health bureaucrats from banning camping there. He also is guiding a bill that would prevent state officials from allowing depreciation of assets from being counted when the state figures eligibility requirements for MnCare.
He said he voted no on the Baxter local option sales tax bill because it was tied to a bill that would raise the income tax. The measure passed the Senate, he said.
Baxter City Administrator Dennis Coryell said a generic bill that would allow outstate cities that pass referendums for local option sales taxes to enact the tax hikes also is alive.
Ruud said she would try to fight funding cuts of work programs for at-risk young people. Responding to a question from Craig Nathan of the Minnesota WorkForce Center, Ruud said money spent on those programs now might save the state money in the long run.
"If we spend the money now, we capture them," she said. "They become successful."
Asked about Pawlenty's proposal for reverse referendums if 20 percent of a district's property owners object to a tax hike, Ruud said that was a case where Pawlenty tossed out interesting ideas but there seemed to be very little support for the measure.
"Some ideas aren't necessarily things we want to happen," Ruud said. "I really don't think that's where we want to go."
Rep. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, in a phone interview with the Dispatch Friday, said he supported the House bill that would place a gay marriage ban before the voters next year. The measure, he said, would prevent judges from deciding the issue. He said surveys indicate that 80 percent of Minnesotans would support such a ban.
He also said his bill dealing with extracurricular eligibility issues for students in districts where the teachers are on strike made it through an education committee and is likely to hit a floor vote this week.
MIKE O'ROURKE can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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