But not protests
By Fritz Busch
SLEEPY EYE - Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, urged people who feel strongly about legislative issues this year to form rural coalitions and be heard in St. Paul.
"Republicans and Democrats, make your voices very loud and heard on the Capitol steps. We'll certainly join you," Dahms said Friday at the County Congress of Elected and Appointed Officials at the Brown County Rural Electric Association Auditorium.
"I'm asking for rallies, not protests," Dahms said.
Participants had questions about the new Affordable Care Act but Dahms, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, and a representative from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's staff didn't have many answers on the evolving issue.
Sleepy Eye City Manager Mark Kober wondered if the Legislature could complete its budget earlier in the session instead of waiting until the end.
"Wouldn't it make sense?" Kober asked.
Torkelson said he agreed but said the state budget hinges on the governor first.
"There are many budget committee hearings. It'll be a time-consuming thing," Dahms said. "If we speed it up, it would eliminate hearings."
Kober said it would be nice if key issues like Local Government Aid (LGA) and school funding were studied earlier.
Dahms said said 18 different study groups presented information on different parts of the budget already.
"Doesn't it happen with four people and the governor in a back office? asked New Ulm City Administrator Brian Gramentz.
"That's a (TV, radio) sound bite, but it isn't that simplistic," Dahms said. "We get in a lot of trouble with sound bites."
Springfield Public Schools Supt. Keith Kottke said look at Shakopee. "It's going to get more LGA. Isn't it like double-dipping because they're population is growing? With high-speed internet in town, we've talked to a number of families that can work online and are school shopping. LGA cuts are like a death sentence to rural communities."
Dahms said a (legislative) study group comes back next week that supports helping smaller communities.
"We've got to figure out ways to get rural LGA and school funding to be fair," he added.
"Rural Minnesota's strong agriculture economy should be emphasized as a way to help young people stay in the area," Torkelson said. "Some people do very well with home Internet-based businesses. Small town life can be great. We need to promote it."
Dahms said Gov. Dayton has a proposal to pay off $500 million in borrowed education funding money in 2014 and 2015 as long as there isn't another funding shift. He said there is interest in returning to a statewide school tax levy which existed a decade ago.
A nursing home administrator complained of staff turnover. "We see people not becoming full-time employees due to the Affordable Care Act."
"It's another real unknown," Dahms said. "Some employers no longer offer healthcare benefits, pay resulting penalties and encourage employees to use the healthcare exchange.
He said lower wage-earners could see lower health care costs with the act while other studies show higher costs.
Gramentz said the Angel Investment Credit created to aid rural Minnesota, is benefiting more metro businesses.
Milford Township Supervisor Fred Juni said rural economic development needs to be more attractive.
"We don't have pots of money for it like Iowa and the Dakotas have," Dahms said. "We have lots of programs but not enough money."
Torkelson said the governor's sale tax on business to business transactions will increase state business costs, making Minnesota less attractive for business expansion.
"If we raise the tax burden on job providers, we'll lose them to other states. It's a balancing act," he added.
Dahms said a federal bill is needed for Minnesota to create a state Internet sales tax so it can be collected from businesses based in other places.
Torkelson said property taxes are a big issue this year. "We've seen a big increase in farm land values, even in the last six months," he added. "We don't know where it will stop."
Juni asked what will happen if electronic pull tab revenues don't fund as much as projected for the new Vikings stadium.
Torkelson said state general funds could be used to make up the difference, but more details are unknown since bonds have not yet been issued.
Both men said they will continue to work on putting the New Ulm to Mankato Highway 14 improvement project on the Minnesota Highway Department's 20-year project plan.
Torkelson said people should not believe everything they hear and read about the Legislature not working together, but keep communicating with them about their needs.
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com.