Local candidates discuss state issues
Published 10:00 am Saturday, October 16, 2010
Concerns about the state budget deficit, supporting education and encouraging good-paying jobs took center stage Saturday morning during a forum for candidates in three local races for the Minnesota Legislature.
Hosted by the Austin and Albert Lea-Freeborn County chambers of commerce at Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services in Albert Lea, the event was attended by more than 50 people.
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Answering questions were incumbent District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, a DFLer, and challenger Kathy Green, a Republican; District 27A Rep. Robin Brown, a DFLer, and opponent Rich Murray, a Republican; and District 27B Rep. Jeanne Poppe and challenger Jennifer Gumbel.
Each candidate was given one to two minutes to make opening remarks before being asked submitted written questions by moderator Cole Mathisen of KIMT.
Sparks, of Austin, said it has been his honor to represent District 27 as a state senator for the last eight years. He said he has a strong work ethic, knows how important agriculture is to the community and has learned what small businesses need to do to survive.
He also talked about the knowledge he’s gained about the state’s transportation system and mentioned several endorsements he has received, including the National Rifle Association, Education Minnesota, Teamsters and AFSCME, among others.
Green, of Austin, said she’s lived in Austin for almost 30 years, with a professional background in health care. She’s had a major focus on public service, including time on the Austin School Board and has spent the past five years as a trustee for the Public Employees Retirement Association.
She has been endorsed by the Minnesota Dental Association. Green said she is running because of the budget deficit, and she thinks the state needs to do what it can to build up the fund balance.
Brown, of Moscow Township, said she and her husband, Joe Brown, superintendent of the Fairmont School District, moved to Minnesota years ago because the state was known for its high education level, good roads and bridges and clean environment. However, over the last 10 years, she said, those things have changed.
Brown said she’s followed the issues she said she would support when she ran for office two terms ago, including quality education for students, affordable health care, a clean environment, fair taxation, balanced budgets and economic development that encourages good-paying jobs and supports businesses.
She said governing is about making choices, and she will vote to support a reasonable, fair and responsible approach.
Murray, of Albert Lea, said he was born and raised in southern Minnesota. He and his wife moved back to this area after his service in the Army because of their roots here. He has 27 years of financial advisory experience, and he said he thinks he has the skills necessary to be a good legislator.
Murray said the Legislature needs to work hard on getting spending under control.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle in Greater Minnesota also need to come together and work for this part of the state. He said he will work across party lines and stand up to his own party if it’s not supporting Greater Minnesota.
He also described himself as a reform candidate, alleging that Brown is a barrier to reform.
Poppe, of Austin, said she has lived in Austin for 25 years, representing District 27B for six years.
She said as the Legislature convenes in January, the state will face a $6 billion shortfall.
“We will survive and face these challenges,” Poppe said, noting that the challenge will be to capture diversity and pull together to solve problems.
Gumbel, of Le Roy, is an attorney in Preston who represents small business owners, family farmers and many others.
She said though she grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., and is not a native of the area, she grew up knowing the importance of small businesses for a vibrant economy.
She noted she’s running to encourage vital main streets and said the Legislature needs to be partners with small businesses and recognize their important role.
Candidates were asked what they would propose to balance the state budget.
Sparks said he thinks the Legislature needs to continue to be open and honest with the people of the state regarding the budget and said solutions will require a balanced approach with some out-of-the-box thinking.
Green said she would prioritize spending — putting public education, roads and bridges first — and set it up so cities and schools can set their budgets and depend on them. She pointed out things such as a concert hall in St. Paul and a sculpture garden in Minneapolis that she thought were unnecessary state fund recipients.
Brown said she wants people to know how much of a role the governor plays in balancing the budget.
The Legislature can reduce expenses, add revenue or provide a combination of the two, she said, and she plans to work with the upcoming governor.
Murray said he thinks the Legislature needs to look at reforms that will help shape government.
“Government tries to do too many things to too many people,” he said, noting the government needs to reign in its spending so that it’s going back to providing core services.
Poppe said she thinks legislators need to spend time looking at options for the budget, including regarding cutting, spending, reforming and consolidating.
She also said the state needs to look at how to raise revenue by creating jobs and job opportunities.
Gumbel said she thinks the state is at a crossroads, with state spending increasing every year.
She noted she thinks legislators need to identify core functions of the state government and scale back on other areas that aren’t core necessities.
All of the candidates said they supported local government aid, many adding that they would support reforming it.
Candidates were also asked how they would propose to raise taxes for different income levels if taxes needed to be raised to balance the budget.
Brown said while ultimately the governor will determine which direction to go, she’s in favor of fair taxation.
Murray said though he doesn’t believe raising taxes is the answer, all things need to be on the table as options. He said he thinks legislators need to first look at spending, again stating the state government tries to do too many things for too many people.
Sparks said he would not support a budget that would force the middle class and seniors to pay more to stay in their homes. He said he was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote against the tax bill in 2009.
Green also talked about what she called a spending problem, noting that last year the state brought in 7 percent more in revenues.
She said legislators need to ask what is needed and what can be afforded and need to worry about spending.
Poppe also supported a “fair and balanced” approach, and Gumbel questioned whether it would involve an income tax increase or a sales tax.
Candidates were asked what their plan is to provide fair and adequate funding to the schools.
Gumbel said as a core function of the state, education needs to be first in line for funding. Schools can’t be getting a shift in payments so that the state can balance its budget.
“We can’t be doing that to core functions,” she noted.
Poppe also talked about the critical nature of education funding.
She said while it is likely even education may receive some cuts, legislators also need to look at how they can encourage partnerships between schools and other entities for collaborative projects.
Murray said with four kids and 10 grandchildren, education is extremely important.
He talked about the need to reform all of the accounting for the school systems and to look at new and creative ways to come up with solutions. Parents need to get more involved as well.
He also mentioned that Brown voted against Race to the Top, a U.S. Department of Education program to spur reforms in state and local school funding.
Brown spent most of her time responding to this remark and said, “We need to stop campaigning by slogan.”
She also talked about the cost that was involved with hiring someone to put the application together.
Green talked about the money in interest schools have had to pay and then talked about the education successes that are happening in Austin.
Sparks said he’s a strong proponent of K-12 education and also talked about the importance of investing in early childhood education. He said for every dollar invested, there are $17 in returns.
Another question asked the candidates to share their thoughts on the Jobs Opportunity Building Zones program and other job development ideas.
Brown said she has supported and voted for the continuation of JOBZ many times, has voted in support of the angel investment tax credit for startup businesses and for the single factor corporate tax, which would allow business and labor to work together to provide a strong environment and strong wages.
Murray also talked about limiting the rules in the state and said he thinks legislators should look at the states surrounding Minnesota and bring ideas here of successes from those states.
He said when he’s been out doorknocking, he’s hearing over and over again that people need good-paying jobs.
Sparks said he thought JOBZ was good for the Albert Lea area and also talked about the angel investment credit.
Green talked about limiting the regulations and mandates for many businesses and said she thinks the state needs to do what it can to entice businesses to grow and stay in Minnesota.
Poppe and Gumbel said JOBZ has worked in some areas but not all areas.
Poppe also talked about the angel investor credit for new entrepreneurs and said she thinks it is important to look at new technologies when expanding jobs in the state.
Gumbel also talked about the number of regulations the state faces.
Candidates were also asked questions about the federal health care bill, local option sales tax, term limits and repealing nuclear moratoriums.