Dist. 24B Rep. Tony Cornish ready to work on good policy

Published 9:05 am Thursday, January 29, 2009

Despite a predicted $4.8 billion state budget deficit, Rep. Tony Cornish sees the 2009 legislative session as a way to re-evaluate government programs.

Cornish, a Republican from Good Thunder, is chief of police in Lake Crystal, but his District 24B also includes Kiester, Wells, Bricelyn and the rural areas between Blue Earth and Waseca. It stretches into Faribault, Blue Earth and Waseca counties.

Cornish said he’s not excited about much he sees in the 2009 budget Gov. Tim Pawlenty released, but he was pleased to see funding for nursing homes will stay the same and funding for education will increase by about 1 percent, which seems large when few things increased.

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“It’s hard to be excited about any part of it,” Cornish said. “I guess the most excitement that a fiscal conservative feels is that times like this make you re-examine government.”

Some issues may be put on the backburner because of the budget crunch, Cornish said. One such issue may be school funding equity. Ensuring that rural schools and urban schools are funded equally is an issue Cornish said he cares about but may not be able to address to the degree he hoped.

“About the time we all get ready to work on good policy we’re hit so hard with the budget,” Cornish said. “It takes your focus off, so it’s hard to deal on two fronts at once.”

While some of his constituents will not like the budget, Cornish said many of his constituents will be pleased because funding for nursing homes and education was not reduced.

Minnesota may receive money from the federal stimulus package, but Cornish said if that happens, he hopes the money is not used in general projects.

“We’ll cut something that we think should be cut, and it shouldn’t exist at all and hopefully it would go away — something we think that could be reformed. And then this stimulus package might come right along and replenish that same one,” Cornish said.

Cornish said no one would turn down the stimulus money, but he said all 57 boards and commissions will be examined with some likely to be cut.

Some of these cuts will affect Cornish’s role as chief of police, because local government aid will be cut by as much as 25 percent, and Cornish said he may be forced to cut programs or an officer.

Aside from economic issues, Cornish is on a number of committees, including the Public Safety Finance Division and the Game, Fish and Forestry Division, and will encounter things like a bill to change the length of deer hunting season and studies weighing if prison sentences for certain crimes should be reduced, Cornish said.

As chief of police of Lake Crystal, Cornish said he isn’t one to look to reduce sentences: “I spend my time catching bad guys so I hate to let them go.”

Staying in touch with his constituents can be difficult because of the geographical size of the district. Cornish said it takes more than an hour to drive from one end of his district to the other, while representatives in urban areas can walk much of their districts.

“We’re really in trouble because the geographical area for each representative is getting bigger as the population grows in the cities,” Cornish said. “It’s based on population. They throw the net bigger and bigger to get us our people down here and we’re losing representation, and I worry about losing a voice for equitable funding about education.”

Cornish attends dinners and benefits in different towns in his district to stay in touch with the people, he said.

Cornish said his constituents should remain patient because the tough economic times are not over yet.

“The message I would give people is be cautious about spending your money right now. This could last a little long and get a little worse,” Cornish said.

If Minnesota companies begin to hire new people and expand, Cornish said this would be a sign of an improving economy. Until then, Cornish said he is focused on what he considers the necessities of government.

“What’s absolutely necessary is we have to make sure the core functions of government get accomplished, and that is your security and safety through public safety, to educate our children through our education and to take car of the needy and the elderly,” Cornish said. “Those are the things that have to get done. Once you’re safe and secure, you’re taken care of, your kids are being educated; everything else is a want rather than a need.”