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West central Minnesota legislators receive list of requests from county for next year

WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County Commissioners en-couraged local legislators to reform taxes, stop the spread of aquatic invasive species and even do a little magic act when they go to the Capitol in January for the 2013 legislative session.

Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Rep.-elect Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, who were elected to office last month, met Tuesday with the County Board of Commissioners to discuss priority issues.

“You’ve got a heck of a job ahead of you,” said Commissioner Dennis Peterson.

Sawatzky just completed her orientation as a freshman legislator. “I’m looking forward to working with you in the next few years,” she said.

With key appointments to the tax committee and the newly created Senate tax reform committee, Koenen will be on the ground floor for legislative efforts to tackle the state’s complicated tax system this year.

He said property, sales and income taxes may all be revised, but he said the bigger the proposed change, the “bigger resistance you get” as people try to protect the “special treatment” they currently get.

Koenen said he expects proposals to reduce the number of property tax classes and to eliminate some tax deductions.

He said, for example, that Minnesota’s corporate franchise tax rate is currently 9.8 percent but because of numerous deductions the average rate is actually 3 percent.

He said half of the goods and services sold in Minnesota are exempt from taxes, which could be changed to broaden the number of items that are taxed and then lower the sales tax for everything.

Koenen said he expects Gov. Dayton’s request to increase income taxes on the highest wage earners will be considered as a means of increasing revenues to offset the state’s structural deficit, but he was noncommittal on how far that proposal would actually go in the legislative process.

County Board Chairman Richard Larson asked that the Legislature reconsider taxing counties for equipment purchased for the new emergency radio network known as ARMER.

Koenen said he would actually support eliminating all local governments from paying any taxes, but cautioned that he couldn’t “promise” passage of that.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said that since 2009, Kandiyohi County has had $790,000 cut from its program aid. He said if the state stops cutting that aid further and the current level is maintained, the county could “handle it.”

Commissioner Peterson, who over the last three years has spearheaded local and statewide efforts to combat aquatic invasive species, asked the lawmakers to “do whatever you can” to fight the likes of zebra mussels and Asian carp.

He said it’s been only by a “stroke of luck” that Kandiyohi County lakes have escaped infestation so far and that if the state spends money now, “it’ll be a heck of a lot cheaper than later.”

Commissioner Harlan Madsen asked Koenen and Sawatzky to bring the Minnesota Accountable Government Innovation and Collaboration Act, known as the “Magic Act” for a vote. The provision would allow counties the flexibility to experiment with new service delivery models and would increase collaboration between the state and local governments.

Madsen said he heard a legislator speak at the recent Association of Minnesota Counties conference who did not favor the Magic Act because he said it would give “too much power” to counties.

Madsen said he found it offensive that a state lawmaker felt the Legislature “knew better” than county officials.

Public Works Director Gary Danielson reiterated commissioners’ concerns about the high cost of asphalt and the lack of increased funding for roads. The last time the state gas tax was increased was 2008.

Madsen said he hoped lawmakers were not “stuck on no taxes and not stuck on the tax pledges that are out there than have been detrimental” to the state.

“We’ll be sending you a lot of information,” said Kleindl, who encouraged the lawmakers to use county department heads as resources for legislative questions that pertain to county issues.

Carolyn Lange

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

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