Drug costs, stadium on legislative calender

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 15, 2004

By Dan Fields, For the Tribune

ST. PAUL &045; Dropping the prices of prescription drugs. A new Twins stadium. Lowering the blood-alcohol limit to 0.08.

Those are just a few of the issues that key Minnesota legislators are vowing to tackle when the upcoming

Email newsletter signup

session starts in less than three weeks.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson and House Speaker Steve Sviggum answered questions from the media during the third annual Associated Press Legislative preview session that took place Wednesday at the Capitol.

Both Johnson and Sviggum answered numerous queries during the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

Pawlenty, who stayed for a little more than 30 minutes, spoke frankly about the tight financial times

Minnesota is still in. However, Pawlenty said there’s no use in talking about the financial hardships many state communities have had to face and instead wanted to focus on the coming months.

“We have a very different economy; we have a very different landscape,” Pawlenty said. “Change is in the

air. It’s profound change. We’re better serving our state on what’s to come.”

Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said lawmakers and taxpayers alike should be proud that Minnesota has gone from a $4.5 billion deficit to a $630 million surplus.

However, Pawlenty said just because the state was back in the black didn’t mean that communities could depend on financial help &045; particularly in the form of Local

Government Aid &045; from the state like before.

“Those are symptoms of an underlying problem,” Pawlenty said. “We are not going to slow down anegative trend. The reasons people are leaving parts of Greater Minnesota are because of a lack of economic


“That’s why initiatives like job zones are important.”

But Johnson said the JOBZ program &045; which is designed to give tax breaks to specific areas in the state in hopes of luring more employers &045; still has its flaws.

“What it does is it picks winners and losers,” said Johnson, DFL-Willmar. “One community is losing, while another is gaining. You should give the same tax breaks for all employees.”

However, Sviggum said Johnson’s reasoning was wrong and the JOBZ program is intended to get more employers to Greater Minnesota, and not having communities compete against each other.

“The job zones give us a chance,” Sviggum said. “We’re done with sending our kids to the metro area and out of state.”

As far as lost LGA monies, Pawlenty said cities, like Albert Lea, need to find alternatives.

“We ask those cities to reflect what’s going on in the private sector,” Pawlenty said. “We’re not going to be able to go back and reinstate those cuts.”

The governor said some decisions made by legislators aren’t easy, noting that “we need leaders, we don’t need more whiners.”

When asked about city, county and school taxes going up in the past year, Pawlenty said there are options.

“If you’re real serious about property taxes not going up, let’s put a limit on them. It is not written in stone that property taxes must go up.”

As far as possible legislation, both Johnson and Sviggum said the state will lower its blood-alcohol

limit from .10 to .08. One of the main reasons is the state could lose out on $55 million in federal highway construction funds over the next six to seven years if the measure isn’t enacted.

“Point-0-8 is going to pass. We don’t have a choice,” Sviggum said.

On the Twins stadium issue, Johnson said having the Twins kick in money &045; along with more user fees &045; is the right option, and not using taxpayer dollars.

“That is a good forumula to involve in any stadium debate,” Johnson said. “I think it’s safe to say the public is not going to pay for any ballpark with tax dollars.”

Also, Johnson and Sviggum discussed why Level III sex offenders shouldn’t be released from prison. The issue has come to light after a Level III offener, Alfonso Rodriguez, was arrested in connection with the death of missing college student Dru Sjodin.

“I’m like the governor. I’m sick and tired of psycho folks out there,” Sviggum said. “I don’t want to let them out again. Those that do (commit crimes) … are going to be put in jail for life without parole.”