Lawmakers receive a tough offer to refuse
WILLMAR -- Willmar Mayor Les Heitke made three state legislators an offer that would be difficult to refuse. The city is hoping to get $10 million in bonding funds from the state to help build a new wastewater treatment plant, Heitke said at Satu...
WILLMAR -- Willmar Mayor Les Heitke made three state legislators an offer that would be difficult to refuse.
The city is hoping to get $10 million in bonding funds from the state to help build a new wastewater treatment plant, Heitke said at Saturday morning's chamber legislative breakfast.
Heitke then made a promise to Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, and Reps. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, and Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City.
If the legislators can help the city with that $10 million request, "I can guarantee you that we will name it after you three," he said.
As the laughter died down, City Administrator Michael Schmit added from the other side of the room, "If you give us $15 (million), we won't."
The meeting was held in anticipation of the Legislature's 2006 session, which begins at noon Wednesday. About 70 people attended the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce event at the Blue Heron on the Green. Chamber President Ken Warner said the chamber hosts the events several times a year to generate discussion between legislators and the business community.
In their opening statements, the legislators listed the state's bonding bill as a major issue of the session.
Johnson called Willmar "the big Kahuna" of nearly 200 communities seeking help with high-cost wastewater treatment plants.
Solving eminent domain issues and passing a workable long-term transportation funding plan will also be important, he said.
With 600,000 immigrants in Minnesot a, the state will need to address the issue of the estimated 300,000 of them that are undocumented, Johnson said.
The state should work with the federal government to help those people become legal residents, he said.
"Especially in this community, we know we need our immigrants for our workforce," Johnson said.
Juhnke talked about the importance of agriculture in the area. Forty percent of western Minnesota's economy is tied to agriculture, he said. On-farm receipts total $250 million a year in Kandiyohi County.
"Every small business in town or the area probably sees a difference" when farmers have a bad year, he said.
Renewable energy will be important to the rural economy in coming years, he added.
They represent different parties, but the three legislators expressed many similar views.
"One of the things that doesn't come out enough is that most of the time we share views, we have common goals and we work together," Urdahl said. An example is the work he and Juhnke did to capture expiring ethanol subsidies to be used for rural economic development, he said.
Agriculture was a focus for Urdahl, too. He talked about his investment tax credit plan for dairy farmers. Johnson has been supportive of that idea, too, he said.
Methamphetamine addiction has become a huge problem for rural areas, Urdahl said. New laws have cut the number of labs, but the number of users continues to rise, he added.
Rural issues like agriculture, ethanol and conservation dominated much of the discussion's question-and-answer session. The legislators also talked about funding for early childhood programs and higher education.
Johnson said he expects about one-quarter of the state's bonding money to be spent on the state's public colleges and universities.
Urdahl, a public school teacher, said he would also work for early childhood education funding. "We need to concentrate on the foundation of education," he said.
As is often the case at the chamber legislative events, economic issues trumped social issues on the agenda. One person asked to have Johnson address a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, expected to be an issue before the Senate this year.
Warner suggested discussing it with Johnson after the meeting, because he wanted to stick to business topics.