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DFL lawmakers: Tax revenue must be part of budget fix

Rep. John Ward (right) talked about the legislative session at a news conferenc

Describing their Republican counterparts as having their “feet stuck in cement,” Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday said a balanced approach, including tax revenue, would have to be part of a state budget solution.

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, said it remains to be seen how the governor and legislators will get to the end result but he rejected what he called the “all cuts” approach of Republicans.

“The main focus needs to be ... to have a balanced budget,” Ward said.

The Republican plan, he said, would result in the loss of $934,000 in local government aid to Brainerd and $5.1 million to Essentia Health St.  Joseph’s Medical Center. In addition, he said the GOP budget would result in more than $400,000 in potential property tax increases and the largest cut to the MnSCU system (including Central Lakes College) in history — 14 percent.

Referring to the economic loss to Brainerd’s hospital, Ward said the Republican budget could result in the loss of 100 jobs at St. Joseph’s and 20 jobs at Cuyuna Range Medical Center.

“The whole theme (at the outset of the legislative session) was jobs, jobs, jobs,” Ward said. “It wasn’t jobs lost, jobs lost, jobs lost. One job loss for our area is critical.”

Speaking with Ward at Wednesday’s news conference at the Brainerd Dispatch were Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, the House minority whip; and Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, the Senate assistant minority leader.

Bonoff said earlier budget deficits were fixed by shifting school money and with the help of federal stimulus money. She said the state has never addressed the structural financial problems.

The freshman class of Republican lawmakers who were elected in 2010 pledged not raise taxes, Bonoff said. 

“They’re looking at the political ... rather than the human cost,” she said.

Hosch criticized the size of cuts he said would be part of the Republican finance bills for cities, hospitals and K-12 education, along with an expected hike in property taxes.

“Those are things we cannot accept,” he said.

Hosch and the other DFL lawmakers complained of the lack of counterproposals from Republicans in response to Gov. Mark Dayton’s concessions.

Ward said Dayton’s compromises this session included legislation streamlining the permitting process for small businesses, allowing alternative licensing for teachers and other bills. Dayton also revised his income tax hike to affect the top 2 percent of wage earners rather than the top 5 percent.

In contrast, Ward said, the House speaker introduced the Republican budget as the party’s first, last and best offer.

“When we do compromise, things get done and they get done effectively,”  Ward said.

The Brainerd DFLer said the poor and working middle class taxpayers pay a higher percentage of their incomes than the extreme top wage earners. It’s time, Ward said for the wealthiest citizens to pay their fair share.

Bonoff said the Republican budget plans would replace the respected MnCARE health program of sliding fees for the working poor with a voucher system that would result in those customers only qualifying for health plans with high deductibles. She described such actions as short-term thinking on the part of Republicans.

The Democrats mentioned that different revenue sources could be a part of the negotiations between the governor and the legislative leaders. Those include lowering business taxes and expanding the existing sales tax as well as placing a sunset clause on any income tax.

The key to whether a government shutdown can be avoided, according to Hosch, may be apparent by what happens in the next few weeks. If no signs of progress are seen by then a shutdown might be considered more likely. 

Bonoff declined to predict how likely it was that a shutdown would occur.

“It’s important to make a commitment to making sure that doesn’t happen,” she said.

Hosch said it was just political fodder to speculate which party had the upper hand in the upcoming negotiations.

“A government shutdown is not in the interest of anybody,” he said.

Ward said the current post-session lull in negotiations is a normal part of the negotiation process. 

“Maybe this little break is OK from the standpoint of a cooling off period.” Ward said.

The DFLers met with reporters in St. Cloud earlier on Wednesday and were scheduled to meet with the media in Grand Rapids Wednesday afternoon.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at or 855-58