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A crowd gathers Friday for the Minnesota Senate Tax Committee meeting at Minnesota State University Moorhead. (Michael Vosburg/The Forum)

Greater Minnesota seeks tax fairness, packed room tells leaders

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MOORHEAD - Greater Minnesota is prepared to weather part of the state's budget challenges, but can't do more than its share.

That's the message members of the Minnesota Senate Taxes Committee heard Friday during a public hearing in Moorhead.

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Fergus Falls Mayor Hal Leland told legislators his city will accept cuts and sacrifices.

"But greater Minnesota can't assume the greatest share of the burden without destroying its economic fabric," Leland said.

Nearly 30 city and county leaders, education officials, students and citizens voiced similar comments to legislators, as more than 100 people packed the room at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Many emphasized the difficulties faced by cities such as Moorhead that border North Dakota, which has a budget surplus.

Several asked for taxes to be raised, while one asked lawmakers to use tax dollars more efficiently.

"Please raise my taxes so those most vulnerable in Minnesota can be helped," said Joe Pederson, executive director of Lakes & Prairies Community Action Partnership.

Cities and counties

Proposed cuts to Local Government Aid threaten cities' ability to fund lifeguards for beaches in Detroit Lakes, police to patrol Breckenridge and mosquito control in Crookston, officials said.

In Moorhead, the cuts will result in more than a simple restructuring, but a "systemic change" in how services are delivered to all residents, Mayor Mark Voxland said.

Clay County Commissioner Wayne Ingersoll cautioned legislators about the ramifications of LGA cuts.

"If those kinds of cuts take place, the most vulnerable of our citizens will have to pay the price," Ingersoll said.

Education

Erma Vizenor, chairwoman of the White Earth Tribal Council, asked legislators to avoid cutting education.

She said education is the greatest investment "so our people to become taxpayers and not tax burdens."

Jennifer Weil, an MSUM student and vice chairwoman of the Minnesota State University Student Association, said students continue to pay a greater share of their higher education costs.

"We are begging that you guys will see higher education as a priority," Weil said.

Deborah Wanek, superintendent for the Pelican Rapids Public School District, asked legislators to add seasonal recreational property to the school's operating levy.

Health services

Stephanie Simonson, a Moorhead resident and survivor of thyroid cancer, asked legislators to raise the tobacco tax to support cancer prevention.

Budget cuts threaten to reduce the number of low-income and special needs patients Apple Tree Dental is able to serve, said Pederson, also a board member of the Hawley-based clinic.

"Dental problems won't go away just because the funding does," said Pederson. "Don't abandon those that have no place to turn."

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