Republicans and one Democrat have their say at chamber forum

by John Gessner
Thisweek Newspapers

The lone Democrat was the only one talking about new taxes Sept. 24 at a Burnsville Chamber of Commerce forum for state legislative candidates.

District 40 Sen. John Doll of Burnsville said spending cuts and new revenue are needed to plug a projected $5.8 billion hole in Minnesota’s next two-year budget.

Doll was the only DFL candidate to attend the business group’s forum for Burnsville-area legislative races.

“I don’t walk in lockstep with any particular group,” the first-term senator told chamber members at Burnsville City Hall. “I don’t think that’s particularly effective.”

A broadened sales tax may be a partial budget fix, said Doll, one of a number of suburban Democrats elected in 2006 in what had been traditionally Republican districts. During the 2010 legislative session, he signed onto a bill to phase out the corporate tax and replace the lost revenue with a broadened sales tax, Doll said.

His Republican challenger, Dan Hall of Burnsville, ruled out any tax hikes.

“I believe it’s a spending issue,” Hall said of the state budget woes. “I believe the revenue’s there. Taxes are extremely high.”

Veteran District 37 Sen. Chris Gerlach said that in a bad economy he’s had to make cutbacks and do more of the work himself at his direct-marketing company in Eagan.

“Then I go to the Capitol and it’s like Monopoly money,” said the Apple Valley Republican, noting that state revenue is expected to rise by 7 percent in the next budget period. “It’s easy to spend other people’s money.”

“We do have an obligation to our residents to not be raising taxes on them at this hard economic time,” said Republican Diane Anderson of Eagan, who’s challenging two-term Rep. Sandra Masin of Eagan in House District 38A.

Republican Pam Myhra of Burnsville, who’s challenging two-term Rep. Will Morgan of Burnsville in House District 40A, said state spending would rise by more than 25 percent in the next two years under current law.

“Which one of us can have automatic increases of over 25 percent?” said Myhra, who pledged to be a “conservative, pro-jobs, limited-government” lawmaker.

First-term District 37A Rep. Tara Mack of Apple Valley said that with a state budget dominated by K-12 education and health and human services, “one or both” will have to be cut.

Minnesota provides “generous” health and human services benefits, she said, calling for reform. State employee costs, including benefits more generous than in the private sector, also contribute to budget problems, she said.

“Our state government needs to be right-sized in every way possible,” Mack said.

Health and human services is “really out of control,” with costs rising by 30 percent in the last two-year budget period, Anderson said.

The Legislature needs to “reform all that or eliminate a lot of that,” Hall said.

Health and human services will probably be a prime budget-cutting target, Doll said.

“Obviously, nobody wants to touch education, or shouldn’t,” he said.

Republican Ted Daley of Eagan, who’s challenging first-term Sen. Jim Carlson in District 38, criticized his opponent’s support of a single-payer state health plan that many DFL legislators back.

“Eagan and Burnsville, especially Eagan, would lose over 3,000 jobs,” Daley said. “Blue Cross, Prime Therapeutics and Delta Dental would be out of business with this legislation.”

Doll touted his jobs record in the Senate, including passage of a tax measure to help Goodrich Sensors and Integrated Systems expand in Burnsville and legislation to allow tax-increment financing to spur development in the area known as the Minnesota River Quadrant.

Invited DFLers who did not attend the forum are Morgan, Carlson, Masin, Senate District 37 challenger Mike Germain, and House District 37A challenger Derrick Lindstrom.

The Burnsville chamber’s political action committee has endorsed Gerlach in Senate District 37, Mack in House District 37A, Daley in Senate District 38, Anderson in House District 38A and Myhra in House District 40A. It did not make an endorsement in Senate District 40.

John Gessner is at burnsville.thisweek@ecm-inc.com.