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West Central Minnesota legislators discuss governor's budget plan

WILLMAR — Although he didn’t praise it, Rep. Paul Anderson said Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget could’ve been worse.

“There was anticipation of what the spending and things would be,” said Anderson, R-Starbuck, in a telephone interview Tuesday after Dayton’s proposed two-year $38 billion budget was revealed.

“I thought it might be even higher. It could’ve been worse in terms of spending,” Anderson said.

Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, said overall he liked the proposed budget because it addresses the structural deficit problem and there’s “no more playing games with shifts and borrowing money.”

Koenen said this budget doesn’t include one-time money that “throws things out of whack into the future.”

With that kind of solid base to build on, Koenen said the details of the budget will be worked out during public hearings that will help gauge what Minnesotans want and will support.

Anderson took issue with a proposed increase on personal income taxes on high-earners at a time when some neighboring states, like Wisconsin, are considering lowering theirs.

Anderson called Dayton’s proposal to lower the sales tax and broaden it to additional goods and services a “really bold plan” but may simply be an attempt to “throw stuff on the wall to see what sticks.”

Anderson said he likes the idea of lowering the sales rate but is hearing from service-oriented businesses about concerns to expand the base of what is taxed. He said he hasn’t decided yet on expanding sales tax.

Koenen likes the overall idea of broadening the base and lowering the rate but said implementing a new tax on goods and services that haven’t been taxed before “gets more tricky.”

Anderson said it’s “frustrating” that talk of increasing taxes is coming at a time when Minnesota’s economy is getting better and the treasury is taking in more money than forecasted.

“I’m concerned about what increased taxes are going to do.”

The proposed budget, however, includes property tax rebates for homeowners and a decrease in commercial property taxes and reductions in other business taxes by closing some commercial tax loopholes, according to the governor’s office.

Considering that Democrats campaigned on the issue of paying back the money the state borrowed from schools, Anderson said he was surprised Dayton’s budget didn’t include funding to pay the shift back by the end of the biennium. He said the state is already making payments and he didn’t necessarily want to a change in the pay-back plan that’s currently in law, but Anderson said he was surprised it wasn’t in the budget.

Koenen said the Governor’s plan does include extra revenue to ensure that the final education loan is paid back in at least four years. “It could happen faster if the economy keeps improving,” he said.

Koenen said he agrees with Dayton’s plan to increase the on-going funding for K-12 education, which he said is better than schools getting just a large one-time loan repayment.

Higher education also gets a boost in Dayton’s budget.

Anderson said he was pleased that Dayton was taking time to meet with the DFL and GOP caucuses separately to discuss his budget and take questions from legislators. “That’s a nice thing he’s doing,” he said.

But given that DFLers control both houses and the governor’s office, Anderson said, “They really don’t need Republicans to pass this.”

Carolyn Lange

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

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