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Sen. Skoe talks minimum wage increase concerns, bonding bill

Bruce Jacobson, from left, his mother, Marion, and Lake Park Mayor Aaron Wittnebel engage in a brief post-meeting chat with Sen. Rod Skoe after his town hall meeting in Lake Park Wednesday. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

Attendance was unusually low at a Wednesday town hall meeting hosted by State Sen. Rod Skoe at the Lake Park City Center.

Skoe said the sparse attendance — less than a dozen people were present — was at least partially due to the fact that the meeting was scheduled in the middle of the week instead of during the weekend.

“This is the first time I’ve done town meetings in the middle of the week,” Skoe said, adding that the change was made to accommodate his work schedule in advance of the 2014 legislative session, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 25.

He noted that he prefers to schedule these meetings with his constituents on Fridays or Saturdays, when more people are able to get away from work to attend.

Despite the low attendance, however, Skoe covered a wide range of topics during the meeting, which lasted a little over an hour.

Topics discussed included proposed legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage, which will be an ongoing theme during the coming session, after a bill on just that topic was introduced in the Senate at the end of the 2013 session.

“That (a minimum wage increase) will be discussed again this year,” Skoe said, noting that there is a bill in the works to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour — the highest in the U.S.

“I have concerns about the ramifications of any minimum wage increase,” Skoe admitted — concerns such as the “upward pressure” such a large increase in the minimum wage (Minnesota’s currently stands at $7.25 an hour) could bring, all the way through the higher end of the pay scale.

Skoe was particularly worried about what such a large mandatory hike in pay could do to long-term care facilities in the state, which are “already running negative cash flows,” he said.

Part of any discussion of raising the minimum wage “has to include increasing the reimbursement rates for long-term care facilities,” Skoe stated emphatically.

He also said there are ways to improve the economic situation of families in Minnesota beyond raising the minimum wage, such as the working family tax credit that was passed last year.

“We’re looking seriously at beefing that up,” he said.

Skoe also talked at length about the bonding bill that the Legislature plans to pass by the end of its 2014 session. He noted that the Legislature’s schedule runs on a biennial structure; one year, the legislators focus on the budget, while in the second, they put together a bonding bill.

“That’s the primary goal of this year’s session — to pass a capital investment bill,” Skoe said.

This past session was a little different from budgeting years past, however, in that they worked on balancing the state budget not just for the coming biennium, but over a four-year period.

“We were going from deficit to not deficit and back,” Skoe said. “We’re trying to stabilize that by balancing the budget over a four-year period.”

They had some success in doing that, he added; not only did they erase a $750 deficit, but the state is looking at a “modest surplus” in the budget this year.

A big part of the reason for that is, “Minnesota’s economy is stronger than anticipated,” he said.

Skoe also said that he hopes any provisions for spending the surplus would include not only putting some in reserves, but also investing in one-time construction projects such as improving the state’s roads and infrastructure.

In other words, “there should be no (proposed) spending of the surplus that has ongoing costs,” he added.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454