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District 13B: Juhnke touts steady hand, experience

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, is seeking his eighth term in the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 13B.

WILLMAR -- Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, is seeking his eighth term in the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 13B, which includes all of Kandiyohi County.

"I believe in good government and want to be involved," he said. "I see the glass as half-full. I want to work, get involved and take control of our future."

Juhnke sees himself as a steady-handed, experienced legislator. He was first elected in 1996 and has served as chairman of the House agriculture and veterans affairs finance committee since 2007.

This year's election issues include jobs, the economy and the budget deficit, Juhnke says.

While there is a limited amount that state government can do about jobs, officials can work on tax policy and bonding bills to stimulate job growth, he said.

All three gubernatorial candidates have proposed bonding bills to be considered early in the legislative session.

Juhnke expects a bonding bill to include several local projects, like the second phase of improvements at Ridgewater College, connecting the New London trail to Sibley State Park and a dairy research and education facility built somewhere in this region.

The facility would be similar to The Dairy Center near Calmar, Iowa. In order for effective research, the local center could have 1,000 cows, Juhnke said. The state Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are all working on the project.

With corn and soybean growers doing well and biofuel development advancing in the state, it's time to turn the focus to animal agriculture, Juhnke said.

Livestock investment grants -- state funding that matches 10 percent of a livestock improvement project -- have never been fully funded. There is a need for $15 million in the state, Juhnke says, which would be 10 percent funding of $150 million in expansion of livestock farms.

Dealing with the budget deficit needs an "everything on the table" approach, Juhnke says. It's not possible to make up the deficit in all tax increases or budget cuts, but rather a mix of those options.

Juhnke expects the state to continue "shifting" education money for the next two or three years, essentially borrowing funds from school districts by delaying payments 30 to 60 days.

The state also needs to revert to the tax bill era of 1998 to 2000, before the state increased education aid to suburban districts and took on funding other costs, like suburban transit. Going back 10 years would "make everyone in the state pay equally," Juhnke said.

The rest of the budget hole could be filled by tax increases of some kind. DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton supports income tax increases on the rich, Independence candidate Tom Horner wants to increase sales taxes and

Republican Tom Emmer will raise property taxes, Juhnke says. It's just that Emmer doesn't say it out loud, he notes.

Emmer's proposals to continue cutting Local Government Aid will raise property taxes, Juhnke says, citing a state Department of Finance study over the past eight years. The study found every $1 cut in LGA equals a 67-cent increase in property taxes, as local governments levy taxes to pay for essential services.

Juhnke expects to introduce a racino bill again, to fund the state's portion of a new stadium for the Vikings. Polling suggests 80 percent of those polled support gambling at Canterbury Downs, which could raise $125 million per year.

The funding could go to recreational facilities, like a Vikings stadium or a new ballpark for the St. Paul Saints, economic development and early childhood funding and bioscience and tech development dollars, he said.

"The reality is that we need the money," Juhnke said, noting that the state could also garner $800 million a year by allowing electronic pull tabs in bars.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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