Republican House 10B candidate Mark Murdock of Ottertail said he would work across party lines to get things done, while attempting to hold the line on taxes, while Republican House 9B candidate Dayna Olson hewed a consistently conservative line, as the two appeared at a candidate forum Tuesday in Detroit Lakes.
DFL Reps. Paul Marquart (District 9B) and Kent Eken (District 2A) also attended the forum, sponsored by the Lakes Area League of Women Voters and the student senate at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Detroit Lakes.
Missing in action were DFLer Tim Nieminen (District 10B), who attended a human services forum earlier this month in Detroit Lakes, and Republican Steve Green (District 2A), who did not attend the earlier forum either.
Helen Foltz served as moderator at the forum.
Here's how the candidates answered a few select questions:
On how they would be rated by a taxpayer's group, on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the best:
n Murdock, a hardware store owner for 25 years, said he would be in the top 20 percent. "I'm not in favor of raising taxes. I'd cut spending, cut waste, and run government like a business. You can't spend it if you don't have it."
n Olson, who works at Feed Management Systems and lives in Glyndon, said she would be in the 90 to 100 range. While she believes in taxation for infrastructure and other essentials, she said "right now we can't afford to be taking money from people that they need for income."
n Eken, an educator who lives in Twin Valley, said "as far as property taxes and rural taxpayers, I'd rank very high."
The rural part of the state has not done well under the tax policy of the past several years, he said. "It's policy of pay more to get less for rural Minnesota, and I'm adamantly opposed to that. We should share the pain equally around the board."
n Marquart, an educator who lives in Dilworth, said "I'm a teacher, and I want to get 100 percent on this." He has chaired the property tax relief committee in the Legislature for the past two years, and said the Legislature has made some strides towards property tax relief -- restoring $42 million in local government aid to cities and $22 million in county aid, as well as $23 million in increased property tax relief directly to homeowners.
Other plans that Marquart supported that would have provided "hundreds of millions in property tax relief for our schools" did not survive the legislative process.
Schools are being forced to rely more and more on property taxes for operating costs and building bonds -- how can the state fix the problem without raising taxes?
n Olson: "This is one issue I'd be interested in doing some research on," she said. "I'd like to pass on this question."
n Eken: "We should have a policy called No School Left Behind, or No Community Left Behind," he said. "That means the state should provide the bulk of funding for K-12 education. We need to go back to the Minnesota Miracle, it shifted funding to the state."
He favors a new "fourth-tier" income tax rate for those who make over $250,000 a year to help pay for it. As a percentage of income, they are paying much less in total taxes than people in the middle class, he said.
n Marquart: "This school funding issue is one of the biggest issues in rural Minnesota. Property taxes are up $1 billion since 2002 just on the school side. The state did not properly fund education, we pushed it to the local districts. Now 90 percent of school districts in the state have to go to voters (for an operating levy). That is simply not acceptable -- it leads to more discrepancy between districts. Twin Cities schools will all these plum features and rural Minnesota will be left behind."
n Murdock: "The (new) Minnesota Miracle will throw money at education without any accountability for how it is spent. It will raise personal property taxes 30 percent ... If you are at 10 percent you will go to the 13 percent level."
On how the Legislature can secure more money for roads and bridges:
n Eken: "We get back more money than we put in for that gas tax increase that was passed -- that was a good deal for rural Minnesota. We need to protect the formula that ensures rural Minnesota does receive fair funding for roads and bridges.
The governor vetoed that bill -- it was overridden -- that was a very rare thing, and it took bipartisan support, and support from the business community and the chambers of commerce at the local and state level."
n Marquart: "Our parents and grandparents built an excellent infrastructure at a time when they didn't have much money -- it's incumbent on us to leave the infrastructure better for our children."
The gas tax may be unpopular, but the way it is dispersed is good for rural Minnesota, which gets 64 percent of those dollars, he said. That means $8.9 million for Becker County over 10 years, and $100 million to townships across the state over the same time period.
n Murdock: "I would agree it was a good bill, listening to Kent and Paul. I like the bipartisanship down there. Dean (Simpson, a Republican who now represents District 10B, but is not running for re-election) crossed party lines about 20 percent of the time. That's very important. That's what I plan to do if elected, reach across the aisle to get things done."
n Olson: "I think the bill was vetoed for good reason -- there were some things in it that were not working for rural Minnesota, like paying for metro area trains, and paying operating costs for those trains. That's not something I'd like to put my tax dollars for. I'd like to use my tax dollars for me."