The 2010 Minnesota Legislative Session will be starting in a few weeks. The session will be another challenging year as the state's finances will dominate. It is also a bonding year and Rochester and Southeast Minnesota will be advocating for several important bonding projects. Rochester's local legislative delegation will be heading to St. Paul on Feb. 4th. Here are their thoughts on a few questions regarding the session:
The November forecast was grim - down another $1.2 billion. What is your view on solving the budget deficit?
Rep. Tina Liebling: Last session, the legislature passed a three-part balanced budget - carefully targeted cuts, a modest tax increase on high incomes, and accounting shifts. We also passed many efficiency and accountability measures and will continue that work. In my view, a balanced approach is still the only responsible way forward.
Rep. Randy Demmer: I believe the Governor and House Republicans will stay strong on not increasing the tax rates on individuals and businesses. We will advocate for putting off spending or reducing to get within the revenues we anticipate coming in. Even the federal government, at least for now, understands that raising tax rates at a time that the private sector is struggling is not good policy.
Sen. Ann Lynch: Simply put, Minnesotans need more jobs. We cannot raise taxes or cut spending enough to get Minnesota and its citizens out of this dire budget situation. We must take a balanced, long-term approach to solving this problem. Dealing with this budget is going to be really hard work, but not unlike what Minnesota’s families and businesses are facing. We must honestly cut state spending, raise fair revenues, and make sound investments that will create jobs because that’s the only sustainable way to move Minnesota forward.
Rep. Andy Welti: The short-term deficit will be solved through more budget reductions and reforms. The reductions will affect nearly every budget in state government.
Sen. Dave Senjem: The state's budget shortfalls are a reflection of what is happening on our general economy. When business revenue is down the solution is not to raise prices but to reduce expenses. This has to be the pathway for solving our state's financial deficit. We must do things that enhance job creation and tax wealth. Further taxing jobs and families when they are struggling to hang on is not the way to prosperity. Creating a business friendly, jobs producing state with an economic engines that fit the strengths of our state is the way to bring prosperity back to Minnesota.
Rep. Kim Norton: The November forecast was indeed grim, but the projections for the next biennium are much, much more concerning. We continue to lack a long term solution for weathering the deficit and addressing the long-ago identified structural problems with our budget. Several committees, even one of the Governor's making, have made a list of suggestions for addressing these issues - but there has simply been no interest at the Executive level to move ahead with them. Knowing the Governor's position, I am fully prepared to work with my colleagues to make necessary cuts in the state budget and would hope that, this year, the legislature will be allowed to proceed as our constituents expect without threat of unallotment. Having said that, I am very concerned about the impact of these cuts on Minnesotans and the quality of life we want and expect.
How do the Rochester Area Bonding projects look to fare during the 2010 Minnesota Legislative Session?
Rep. Kim Norton: Your delegation will work hard to make certain that the legislature understands the importance of the various bonding bill proposed for our part of the state. As a regional center, we should certainly be given special consideration for some projects of regional or statewide importance, even in these tough economic times. I am hopeful that a number of our requests will make it to the Governor’s desk...what happens after that is in his hands.
Sen. Dave Senjem: Thinking about the bill and statewide proportionally, I think Rochester will have another good bonding outcome headlined by the $34 million for the Mayo Civic Center. Additional projects are going to be difficult with such a large amount going to the civic center but we will be working as a delegation on things like the Workforce Center, the Volleyball Center, the Lake Zumbro Restoration, and our regional trail projects. The Rochester area has fared well in the past and I we'll work hard to make sure we are fairly represented going forward.
Rep. Andy Welti: The House bonding bill will probably include three to four key projects. When the conference committee meets and the Governor weighs in, some of those projects could be lost according to his recently released bonding bill proposal.
Sen. Ann Lynch: I just reviewed the Governor’s bonding request and am pleased to see that funding for the Southern Corridor Railroad Project was included. I believe the key to a good bonding project is that it creates jobs and helps bring additional revenue to the area or state. Two projects that meet this criterion are the Mayo Civic Center expansion and the National Volleyball Center.
Rep. Randy Demmer: I think we will see even more emphasis this year on projects that are infrastructure based - roads, bridges, HEAPR, rail, airports, etc. Projects deemed to be of a more local nature will have a tougher time, regardless of party connections.
Rep. Tina Liebling: The governor has excluded almost all Rochester projects from his proposed bonding bill and threatens to veto the final bill if it includes projects he does not favor. With the Governor insisting on his bill or none at all, unless at least three House Republicans will vote to override his veto, our chances are slim. This missed opportunity is a blow to our regional economy and to the entire state.
Rochester on Tour (ROT) is Wednesday, Feb. 24th. What is your favorite part of this annual event? Your favorite ROT moment?
Rep. Tina Liebling: My favorite part is the big hometown party at the Armory, where we meet friends old and new. My favorite moments are when I meet folks from Rochester who are visiting the capitol for the first time, and when legislators from other places tell me how much our community impressed them.
Rep. Randy Demmer: My favorite part is seeing all the "locals" on Capitol hill, creating the "buzz". I also really enjoy meeting with the Chamber young professionals, answering questions about process, politics, etc. Of course the food at the Armory is outstanding! Really, what is not to like about ROT?
Sen. Ann Lynch: My favorite part of ROT is the number of visitors who take the time to come to St. Paul to share their stories and help me to shine light on our important regional economic issues. Having 500 of my neighbors, community leaders, constituents, students and friends fill the capitol rotunda is truly inspiring and gives me a sense of pride for the area I am privileged to serve.
Rep. Andy Welti: I enjoy attending the reception at the Armory. After a very hectic and fast paced day, it gives me a chance to speak with the people who attend the event.
Sen. Dave Senjem: My favorite part of Rochester on Tour is the evening party when I get to showcase the people of Rochester to my legislative colleagues. You guys are great and we who serve you are all so very proud to do so.
Rep. Kim Norton: I'm ready for Rochester to storm the capitol again this year! This great event makes us all proud and is mentioned by legislators regularly. They note the large number of citizens that participate, but also comment on the wonderful event at the close of the day as the "premier" city event each year.