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Election 2002: District 31 MN Senate


Fri, Oct 25th, 2002
Posted in Features

Editor’s note: Bob Kierlin (Republican) and Sharon Ropes (DFL) are running for a newly aligned District 31 Minnesota State Senate seat. The Journal asked the two candidates to respond to an Election Questionnaire. Here are their responses in their own words.Journal: Inform the readers as to your qualifications and motivation for running for state office.Ropes: Southeastern Minn-esota needs an effective senator who will speak up convincingly for working families and senior citizens by supporting affordable health care, quality schools and tax fairness. With a looming 3 billion dollar deficit ahead, I am committed to the 90% of Minnesotans who are struggling to pay their dental bills, keep up with skyrocketing health insurance costs or pay for prescriptions. The richest 10% have enough special interests at the Capitol looking out for their wealth. As a registered nurse, it pains me to hear elderly neighbors tell me about cutting their expensive pills in half to make prescriptions last longer. People are calling this 'theft by prescription.' Unlike the incumbent Senator who voted against lowering outrageous drug prices (Senate File 765), I will work hard to reduce prescription costs. Nursing homes are desperate for more staff, but over regulation and marketplace wages are roadblocks. Until we support professional caregivers and expand health care services, we fail our aging citizens. As a school board member, I am distressed that the under funding of education forces schools to choose between sports or academics, between foreign language or reasonable class size, between buying new textbooks or building maintenance. Most Minnesotans believe that our students need these bedrock essentials to learn successfully and to prepare for life in a global economy. People understand that rural schools are funded at a different rate than the big city schools. I will work to stabilize the roller coastering school budgets, and to eliminate the multi-million dollar nightmare called The Profile of Learning. No teacher or parent has told me of improved student achievement as a result of this burdensome crush of adult paperwork. Students succeed with dedicated teachers, parent involvement and adequate classroom resources. As a responsible business owner, I oppose the practice of billion dollar businesses using part-time employees to avoid healthcare coverage and to skimp on benefits. I've spoken with families all across our district that have dropped their health insurance or have measly coverage. Small business owners, the self-employed and farmers are hard pressed to cover their own families. Finding a solution to affordable health care is a top priority. Elected positions/state leadership that qualifies me for office: Winona Area Public School Board of Directors - elected Chair twice; Minnesota State Attorney General's Task Force on Consumer Rights and Health Care; Minnesota State PTA Board of Directors; MN PTA State Arts Chair; Minnesota Master Gardeners State Advisory Board; Minnesota State Horticultural Society Board of Directors. Kierlin: Having been in-volved in starting and growing businesses such as Fastenal and Hiawatha Broadband Communications, I have an appreciation of what makes an organization successful. In 1999 I was elected to the Minnesota State Senate where I have worked to apply the principles of successful organizations to public service. I believe that all people have the potential to succeed, and leaders have the obligation to give everyone the opportunity to succeed. Leaders (and government) should challenge rather than control.Journal: Given an estimated $3 billion revenue shortfall, how do you propose the state balances its budget. Consider what major cuts you would propose; whether you would propose raising taxes; and whether there are budget line items you would recommend protecting. Explain.Kierlin: The State’s revenue shortfall is due to the poor national economy, in particular as it is measured in stock market indices. When businesses are profitable, our State realizes $1 billion more annually in corporate and individual income taxes than we are currently receiving. Any solution to the budget shortfall should not damage our long-term economic viability. Our economic well-being requires educated and motivated people, good transportation, and high-speed communications. All line item expenditures for the next budget should be challenged for necessity and for growth requests greater than the rate of inflation. A gas tax increase should be considered if the money is distributed fairly to improve local roads. Our State currently loses about $100 million annually by not collecting use taxes on goods bought through out-of-state catalog houses and Internet sales. We should try to collect what is owed. We also lose about $33 million a year by not charging sales tax on the clothing sold at the Mall of America.Ropes: It was disappointing to see 91% of the budget problem irresponsibly addressed with shifts and one-time cuts. Sadly, the next session will be much more difficult on Minnesotans. The $2 billion surplus we had recently was used for frivolous rebates rather than wise investments in roads, schools and health care. Now Minnesota is in a mess. The good news is that we can take a balanced approach to solving the budget, making fair decisions based on the new economic forecast in November. The deficit will require a careful hand in delivering cuts, deferring projects and adding new revenue. Cutting state administrative costs should be a top priority. Any new revenue must be regarded as a last resort and must be raised fairly. The middle class and working poor carry a higher burden of tax impacts than the wealthy. I believe that is wrong. I'll work hard to protect working families, schools, the elderly and vulnerable citizens through the budget process. Journal: With the shortfall in mind, what advice do you have for local units of government and school districts that rely on state funding?Ropes: Given the current state budget outlook, the state is going to have to make drastic cuts - averaging 10% across the board - unless we raise additional revenues. Currently, the deficit is estimated to exceed $3 billion, which will require a fair balance of both budget cuts and new revenue. Again, any new revenues considered must be raised fairly. We need to avoid actions that fall short of meeting our state obligations. Unfair shifts onto local property taxes also should be avoided. The deficit is a huge problem, and I must give you an honest assessment. It may prove difficult to preserve inflationary funding in several budget categories - including local government aid and K-12 education. These next two years everyone will need to hang on by their fingernails because the deficit was not squared away by current legislators last session. I have always supported inflationary increases in education funding, and hope we can make the necessary investments when we convene next session. But it wouldn't be responsible to pledge to specific dollar amounts at this time. A 3% education increase adds up to about $550 million. Until November, we can't be sure about the next budget. The best answer I can give is that I place high value on protecting education, health care and local services. Kierlin: Local governments and School Districts should appreciate the difficult economic seas we are sailing. Automatic cost increases should not be accepted as "automatic". Where possible, reserve accounts should be used until the economy improves. If any state funds are cut, the local jurisdiction should demand more autonomy to solve the resulting problems. Journal: Outstate representation in the House and Senate has been further diminished with redistricting, what strategies do you intend to employ to ensure that rural issues are addressed in St. Paul?Kierlin: The issues of Greater Minnesota will increasingly require some votes from urban legislators. There are good people from all parties and areas in the State Senate. I have found that good people and reasonable discussions of problems will lead to good solutions. Building trust works better than partisan politics.

Ropes: As a Navy officer in the Nurse Corps for five years, I learned about high expectations, ethical leadership and professional collaboration. I will represent our bluffland region with positive energy, hands-on leadership and very active advocacy. People of southeastern Minnesota deserve more than shrugged shoulders when they go to their senator for help. You can be certain that I will be in your hometowns and down your rural roads to intentionally connect and learn from the people I serve. I have always believed that leaders must include the people who are going to be affected by a decision in the decision-making process. When I need advise, perspective and understanding about issues, I go to the folks who do the daily work and know it best.Journal: What is the biggest single issue facing the state of Minnesota and how do you propose dealing with it?Ropes: The budget deficit and affordable health care were covered in the previous questions. Kierlin: The main issue facing the State of Minnesota is the State’s economy and the need to balance the budget. I would hope to be a leader in finding solutions to the budget deficit that will be fair to all without hurting our future economy. My financial experience, frugality and candor have given me credibility in the State Senate.

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