Brown, Larsen debate welfare, jobsPublished 10:41am Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The two candidates for Minnesota House District 27A went back and forth Monday night on what is welfare.protect
At a forum at Riverland Community College held by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, Republican challenger Erik Larsen said the Department of Health and Human Services makes up 30 percent of the state budget and is the fastest growing part of state government. He said that department is where he would make the most severe cuts if he could. He said additional cuts could come from prisons.
“You need to define what welfare is,” said incumbent DFLer Robin Brown.
She said only 10 percent of that budget is what people think of as welfare. She also said some of the welfare goes to support nursing homes and said she didn’t feel cutting funding for nursing-home care was a good idea.
The issue resurfaced through the debate.
Larsen said $10 million of Minnesota’s welfare is being spent out of state. He said it is being spent more generously in Minnesota than in other states, making it a magnet for people seeking handouts. He mentioned signs in Texas telling people to go to Freeborn County to take part in Minnesota’s welfare, but then added he doesn’t know if the signs exist.
Brown countered she has problems with spreading “rumors” about signs that might or might not exist. She said the state Legislature has committees to find waste and to streamline expenditures. She said cuts to welfare must be watched closely so the state doesn’t hurt the most vulnerable.
A question asked how to fund education.
Taxes, Larsen said. He said it is a critically important part of the state budget and the state needs to provide the best education with the best resources available.
He said most teachers do a fabulous job but some are inadequate yet protected. He said he wants better teacher pay but doesn’t want more taxes because of the need for economic growth. He said there is a need for a better school funding formula.
Larsen said unfunded mandates can be a problem to rural districts and said he favors local control. He talked about how the Lyle school district has to constrict its budget around the government mandates for special education.
Brown said she serves on three education committees and called for changes in the way school districts are funded. She said the state needs a more equitable system and said she is working on a bill to make a system more fair than the present one. She said because she knows how hard teachers work that it is hard to say they are overpaid.
Brown, an Albert Lea High School teacher, said she supports the No Child Left Behind Act but added that it needs many changes. She said she teaches special education every school day and not giving special-ed students the education they deserve would be intolerable.
Minnesota ranks 45th out of the 50 states, Larsen said, when it comes to being friendly to small businesses and entrepreneurs, according to the Small Business Survival Index. He said South Dakota ranks first. He said South Dakota has 3 percent unemployment, while Minnesota has 6 percent. He said the state is responsible for allowing business to grow and prosper.
Larsen works for the National Federation of Independent Business, a nationwide association of small businesses.
Brown said she chooses to live in Minnesota, not South Dakota. Brown said she votes in favor of bills that help the economic climate in southern Minnesota. She said she voted to extend the Job Opportunity Building Zone program and voted in favor of a single-payer corporate income tax like in Iowa.
Brown said funding for roads and bridge hadn’t increased for 20 years. She said she is proud the Legislature securing funding, even if it was by overriding the governor’s veto. She said it took a bipartisan effort and said the bill will bring $10 million for roads in Freeborn County and $12 million for roads in Mower County.
Larsen said highways and bridges are the most legitimate thing for the state to spend money on right now. He said the question is how to get funds for highways in rural areas rather than the metro area.
Larsen said when the state faces budget constraints state lawmakers naturally will seek to shift costs onto local government. He said there will be problems funding local government aid. He said LGA is meant for infrastructure assistance, not for balancing city budgets. He said he favors removing LGA from Minneapolis and St. Paul and giving more to smaller cities.
Brown said people need to remember services are supported by taxes. She said the key when making cuts is prioritizing. She said cities should be able to fund police forces and fire departments. She said she doesn’t like how the state shifts costs down but it will keep happening until “someone in higher office” changes that.
Brown said the state helps health care through programs such as Medicare and funding emergency-room visits. She said the state needs to make sure more people are covered by insurance and look for ways to make the health-care system more efficient.
Larsen said he opposes state-run health care or any socialized medical system. He said the result is rationed care and fewer choices. He said when money is take out of private sector, it hurts growth.
Both candidates said they favor cutting the state tax on Social Security income. Brown added people need to be careful of believing literature on the topic in the mail and said she favors cutting the tax only if there is a plan to make up the lost revenue so the state budget balances.
Both candidates said they favor restoring a tax on wind turbines that would benefit local counties and school districts.
In closing, Larsen said population loss in Freeborn County and rural counties concerns him. A shrinking tax base creates budget problems, he said.
“More government is not the answer,” Larsen said.
He said his experience with NFIB makes him the superior candidate.
Brown, in closing, said she is proud of the connections she has made, including the relationship with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who she said has visited Albert Lea seven times in the past two years.
She said her experience as a small business owner raising and selling horses and her experience has a teacher make her qualified for serving the voters.
Candidates in two Freeborn County commissioner districts also debated Monday night. Read about them in Wednesday’s Tribune.