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Vogel says gov. should sign budget bills already agreed upon

WILLMAR -- Rep. Bruce Vogel stood his ground during a meeting Thursday in Willmar with area union representatives, defending the GOP-proposed budget and commitment not to raise taxes on the state's top 2 percent of earners.

The state faces a shutdown July 1 if a budget agreement isn't reached between Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

"We're waiting to see when they're going to call us back," said Vogel, of Willmar. "We're on hold until they come to some sort of agreement."

He said legislators have been told not to leave the state and be ready to go to St. Paul within 24 hours.

But given the different positions of the two sides, there may not be a lot of hope for an agreement by the shutdown deadline.

With the threat of 35,000 state workers losing their jobs with a shutdown and the future of the state dependent on the outcome of this legislative session, Julie Bleyhl asked Vogel if the shutdown was worth the resulting serious implications.

"Who's standing up for who?" said Bleyhl, the legislative director for American Federation of State and County and Municipal Employees Council 5.

Considering the concessions the Republicans made this week to increase K-12 education spending by $80 million and public safety/judiciary by $30 million, Vogel said there's no reason why Dayton does not sign those two bills and keep the police, firefighters and courts operating.

He said the $4 billion transportation bill is being held up by a $62 million difference to the Met Council for transit. If Dayton signed the transportation bill now, road construction projects could continue even if other state functions were stopped during a shutdown while negotiations continued on the remaining bills, Vogel said.

But that's not likely to happen because the "governor's holding tight on the top 2 percent thing," Vogel told the group of about 25 people -- mostly members of the teachers' union.

Dayton has said it's not fair that lower-income residents pay a greater percentage of their income to taxes than the state's most wealthy people.

But Vogel said rich Minnesotans "bear the biggest burden" of paying state taxes and it's not fair to force them to pay higher taxes and "confiscate more of people's hard-earned money."

"Who in here isn't hard-working?" asked Joel Brenckman, a member of Education Minnesota. If income taxes aren't increased on the wealthy, the costs will simply shift to property taxes, he said.

Vogel said he believes Dayton -- whose own family is wealthy -- wants to increase taxes on the rich because "he feels guilty for the way they live."

Vogel said nothing is stopping people from sending more money to the state, and he invited the group to write letters to wealthy Minnesotans asking them to do so.

"We already did that," responded a woman. "We did that by electing Dayton."

Vogel reiterated his belief that millionaires and business owners will leave Minnesota if their personal income is taxed at a higher rate. And they'll take jobs and workers with them, said Vogel.

"The trickle-down is a bunch of hooey," Brenckman said.

Vogel told the union members they do not understand the financial pressures that private-sector businesses have been under, adding that he also he did not like the power that unions have to use taxpayer money to hold taxpayers "hostage."

Several teachers told Vogel he does not understand the real-world public classrooms, where some high school students work all night or sleep in their cars and come to school the next day too exhausted to learn or do well on mandatory state tests. Teachers are ranked on their performance based on state test scores.

When it comes to paying their fair share, Brenckman said teachers reach into their own pockets every day to pay for school supplies or for lunch for kids who come without.

Vogel said he believes K-12 education funding will be increased under the new compromise plan but said financial reforms are needed, citing the disparity in per pupil funding, with urban districts getting more state funding than rural schools. "We feel our students are just as important as theirs."

Since K-12 education was already getting an increase, Vogel said he would have preferred that the additional $80 million go to higher education instead.

Carolyn Lange

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

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