State deal struck

Published 9:38 am Friday, July 15, 2011

Albert Lea resident Lenore Fries tells Gov. Mark Dayton her views at a meeting Wednesday at the Albert Lea Business Development Center. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

A day after Gov. Mark Dayton left Albert Lea, he gave a counteroffer to Republicans that he felt would bring a deal and reopen state government. Did what Albert Leans said have an impact?

“He saw that more people were being affected than state employees,” said Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Director Randy Kehr.

The governor came to Albert Lea on Wednesday afternoon after visiting Rochester that morning and St. Cloud the day before.

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Kehr said the meeting in Albert Lea was with business leaders and was delivered in a “factual, civil manner,” contrasting with some public outcry the governor experienced at town hall forums in the other two cities.

The staff members with the governor on Wednesday told the Albert Lea Tribune that their work day wasn’t done after the Albert Lea meeting. The governor had another meeting that night to comb over the feedback he had received from Minnesotans.

Many people at the Albert Lea meeting urged him to find a way to reopen the state government.

Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Director Dan Dorman, who organized the meeting with business officials in Albert Lea, said the he would have preferred that state leaders acknowledged the need for more state revenue. Dorman, a former state legislator, opposes borrowing more money to balance the state budget.

“It is pushing the problem off to someone else, pushing it to next year or the future.”

He said he understands that Dayton saw the need to reopen state government and that was the message he heard in Albert Lea. But Dorman added that the Legislature needs to make the hard decisions in the coming session that provides a long-term fix to the annual shortfall.

Among the things Dorman calls for a replacement for the Job Opportunity Building Zone program, a tax-incentive program nicknamed JOBZ and geared for Greater Minnesota.

“If we can’t tax or cut our way out of this, we need to grow our way out of this,” Dorman said.

He said state legislators need to recognize that not all parts of the state have the same needs.

As for the deal struck Thursday night in St. Paul, Dorman said it does indeed include taxes. Delayed state payments and reduction in services result in increases in local property taxes.

Kim Nelson, the director of The Children’s Center, said she is concerned the budget deal will place more hardship on low-income families needing child care.

She said the state child care assistance has been frozen for about five years or so and the new budget deal could still have a 5 percent cut to the assistance. She is hoping it will not.

“If that’s going to be lowered when our expenses go higher, the parents are going to have to make that up,” Nelson said. “It would kick them when they are down.”

She said the program is an economic development issue. Skilled workers need quality child care or they will go elsewhere. She noted how she gets tours from employers recruiting talent.

“If you don’t have the whole package in tact, you’ve got a problem,” Nelson said.

With a state reopening, however, she is glad the federal assistance that flows through the state offices will resume. That includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food program funding.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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