A crowd of nearly 50 Redwood area residents gathered at city hall in Redwood Falls Tuesday night, not to take in the city council meeting but to hear another group of politicians. That night the City of Redwood Falls in conjunction with the Coalition of Grater Minnesota Cities, conducted a candidate forum for the state seats up for grabs in Senate District 16.
A crowd of nearly 50 Redwood area residents gathered at city hall in Redwood Falls Tuesday night, not to take in the city council meeting but to hear another group of politicians.
That night the City of Redwood Falls in conjunction with the Coalition of Grater Minnesota Cities, conducted a candidate forum for the state seats up for grabs in Senate District 16.
When the newly redistricted boundaries were drawn, Red-wood Falls and the rest of the eastern half of Redwood County (along with a couple of townships in Renville County and other points farther east), became part of SD16 and House District 16B.
The two candidates for the senate seat, including current Sen. Gary Dahms and his opponent Ted Suss were in attendance at the forum, as were the three candidates for the House District 16B seat, including current Rep. Paul Torkelson and his opponents James Kanne and Jerry Pagel. The forum was moderated by Gary Revier, mayor of the City of Redwood Falls.
Each candidate was given a two-minute time frame to introduce themselves at the start of the forum, and then the questions began – with the majority of them focusing on taxes and the economy.
The first question posed to the candidates was about the local government aid (LGA) program, which has seen a dramatic drop in allocations to communities, such as Redwood Falls. Did candidates support LGA, and would they support a $100 million increase to bring the program near allocations from 2002.
All five candidates spoke in favor of the idea of LGA.
“I absolutely support the concept,” said Suss, adding however before increases could be made the state legislature has to balance the budget.
Dahms said he demonstrated support for LGA during his first time as a state senator, adding he would continue that support if he was re-elected.
He added there is a bipartisan committee which is going to begin meeting during the 2013 session to determine the most efficient and effective way to continue providing LGA to communities.
“I’m with these guys,” said Pagel, in reference to the support for LGA expressed by Suss and Dahms.
What must be determined, however, said Pagel is how to pay for that responsibly.
Kanne expressed his support for LGA, adding one of the best times in the history of Minnesota was during the days of the Minnesota Miracle.
Those days, from 1971-2000, he said, were a time when there was good support for all units of government.
“That was a wonderful time for the state,” said Kanne.
Torkelson said a disparity exists in the state property tax base with communities deemed property tax wealthy and others property tax poor. He supports LGA, adding the distribution of it must reflect the difference between the communities which have a strong tax base and those which don’t.
Another question asked of the candidates regarded their preferred method of tax relief for the state.
Kanne said he would bring back homestead credit, adding the change to the market value program merely shifted the burden of taxes form one group to another.
Torkelson said he sees the value in a business property tax relief program, adding relief in that area was approved by the legislature but then vetoed by the governor.
“What we need to do is get balanced help for Greater Minnesota,” said Torkelson.
Pagel said the state needs to create tax relief that can compete with other states, such as South Dakota and North Dakota, as businesses and people continue to leave the state because of the tax burden.
Dahms said homestead credit is not the answer, because the state never kept its promise in the amount of funding it said it was going to allocate.
As an example, he said in 2011 the state said it would pay out $291 million but only ended up paying $151 of what it promised.
“What we need is a simpler tax program, not what we have now,” said Dahms, adding there are currently 55 different tax classifications in the state. “The problem is when you pull from one area there is an impact one another area.”
Suss said the market value exclusion which replaced homestead credit is a bad program, adding he would bring back homestead credit.
When asked about the possibility of expanding the sales tax to additional products for sale, all expressed an interest in expanding that tax to include sales done over the Internet as a way to create fairness.