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In Willmar, DFL'ers say counterparts have 'feet stuck in concrete'

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, is interviewed Wednesday at the Tribune offices in Willmar. Also pictured is Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City. Tribune photo by TJ Jerke

Republican leaders' unwillingness to make a common sense compromise on the state budget could result in the partial shutdown of state government, according to a group of DFL House members who criticized the Republican bu-dget plan Wednesday in Willmar during a series of statewide press conferences.

"They've got their feet stuck in concrete," said Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, calling the Rep-ublican-backed bill an "all cuts budget."

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

If a bi-partisan compromise isn't reached during a special session before July 1 some state services will be shut down, including state parks.

The shut-down could last one day or one month, "or four months if the concrete is set that deep and that hard," said Mahoney.

Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, said he stands behind Gov's Mark Dayton's budget plan that includes a combination of budget cuts and increasing income taxes to the state's most wealthy.

When income tax, property taxes and sales taxes are combined the richest Minnesotans pay a lower percentage in total taxes than others, said Koenen.

The GOP caucus members - especially the numerous freshmen who were elected on the TEA party platform of not increasing taxes - have said they won't budge on the tax issue and the state should live within its means.

"It's hard to govern with a simple slogan," said Rep. Terry Morrow, from St. Peter.

"Simple slogans don't bring nursing home services. Simple slogans don't teach our children. Simple slogans don't ensure our colleges are affordable. Simple slogans don't pave roads. Governing is hard work." he said. "It involves give and take."

The GOP's reluctance to meet Dayton half-way shows they want to "protect" the top two 2 percent of the state's wealthy residents to the detriment of middle- and working-class people, said Mahoney.

Given the state's economic situation, the middle class know they'll "take some hits." But Mahoney said the wealthy "should share the pain."

Morrow said he wants to see "the very highest earners in our state contribute at the same level as elderly, students and others do."

Mahoney said the Republicans' budget plan would shift costs to counties, schools and cities in the form of higher property taxes.

"There's going to be a tax increase. It's just a matter of who's paying it," he said.

The legislators said under the GOP budget Willmar would lose $668,000 in local government and that property taxes could increase $334,000, while Rice Hospital could lose $3.4 million in reimbursements, Ridgewater College could see the largest cut in history (14 percent) and K-12 schools in Willmar would lose $175,000.

The three legislators laid the blame for the stalemate on the "right wing" Republicans and the failure of majority leaders to lead those legislators to a compromise agreement.

Mahoney said polls show a majority of Minnesotans agree with Dayton's plan to balance the budget with a combination of judicious cuts and tax increases for the top earners.

When it comes to who's going to blink first, Morrow said the governor has already blinked because of his compromised budget.

Now it's the Republicans' turn, he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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