The budget was the issue at the top of the list for area state legislators, who have made their way to the Capitol for the start of the regular legislative session that began Tuesday, Jan. 8.
The Pine River, Backus and surrounding communities are largely covered by Senate districts 5 and 9 and House districts 9A and 5B. Following are comments from those four area legislators on their goals and what they’ll focus on as they begin the legislative session at the Capitol.
Sen. Tom Saxhaug
DFL-Grand Rapids • Senate District 5
The budget is the No. 1 issue in the eyes of Saxhaug, who said the budget will take precedence over any other issue.
“We’ll be looking to bring back some kind of fiscal balance. That means you’ll have some cuts, some efficiencies and some revenues, meaning taxes,” Saxhaug said.
He said the state knows it’s going to have at least a $1.1 billion deficit, he believes probably closer to $2 billion, and there’s a little over $1.3 billion of the school shift to pay back.
The No. 2 priority, he said, is to make sure there is equality in education regarding funding.
He said his goal is to come home saying, “We got everything more efficient, and we aren’t kicking the can down the road anymore. Our children are getting a fair shake and we’re improving; our education system is back on the way up.”
Rep. Tom Anzelc
DFL-Cass County • House District 5B
Anzelc, too, put the budget as the No. 1 issue of the session.
“We need to concentrate on getting the state’s fiscal house in order,” Anzelc said. “It would be really good if the economy would continue along its gradual path of recovery, because that would mean that there would be added revenue coming to the state.”
Still, though, Anzelc foresees cuts.
“Unfortunately, additional cuts in services are going to need to be required to balance the budget,” he said.
Another area of focus for Anzelc is property taxes.
“Philosophically I don’t believe that we can continue to sustain rising property taxes in order to maintain services,” Anzelc said. “Services by Cass County shouldn’t be paid for by property tax. We don’t have the property wealth they have in the suburbs. We need statewide taxes that are balanced and fair.”
He said that because of the dependence on property tax, schools have become less equal.
“I want kids in Pequot Lakes and Backus and Remer to have the same shot at a good public education as kids in wealthy suburbs, and right now that really is not possible,” Anzelc said.
Districts with higher property wealth are able to raise levies, he said, which allows some schools a higher rigor of activities and electives than others.
Anzelc also hopes to restore the homestead tax credit, something he’s cautiously optimistic of doing.
Sen. Paul Gazelka
Senate District 9
Gazelka said one of the biggest issues this session is the projected billion-dollar shortfall.
“I think it’s important to remember that we have $2 billion in revenue,” but, he added, increases go to $3 billion.
“So we have to be fiscally responsible for that, and make sure we’re using our resources wisely,” he said.
Across the state, Gazelka would like to work at making Minnesota a place that job creators want to go. To that end, he hopes to reform the permitting process so it’s faster, making it easier for businesses to expand.
“One thing to watch for,” Gazelka said, “is there will be a lot of discussion about change in our tax structure. Is there a better way to do it?”
Rep. Mark Anderson
House District 9A
“The bonding issue is going to be huge this year,” Anderson said, adding he foresees something coming that will ask for more stadium funding.
“I don’t think pull tabs is going to be on-course,” he said.
He believes aquatic invasive species will continue to be a big issue this year, but how much money would be spent on that, he didn’t know.
One of Anderson’s goals is simply to have an influence. “I’m freshman minority,” he said, and he wonders if he’ll get a hearing.
He’d like to end mandatory tax withholding by business and see businesses “relieved from being tax collectors for the government.” He believes that businesses aren’t liable for their employees’ taxes, but the employees themselves are.
The 2013 legislative session that began Jan. 8 will continue for 120 days, wrapping up in May.