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A talk with the Senator

Sun, Jan 7th, 2001
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Monday, January 8, 2001

Prior to the opening session of the 2001 Minnesota Legislature on January 3, the Journal invited State Representative Greg Davids in to discuss the legislative session and what he expects to be its highlights and issues. The following is excerpted from a wide-ranging hour-long interview with Journal editors, Al Mathison and John Torgrimson.

What do you expect to be the highlights of the coming session?

Davids: Were looking at another budget surplus even though theres talk of the national economy trending down. Minnesota is still trending up, we have a very strong economy. The big debate will again be tax rebates and tax cuts. Im sure well increase some spending on K-12 education, nursing homes, some areas like that. But the thing that we have to watch out for during these good times and spending increases, even though were cutting taxes and giving money back, if we do go into recession then how do we pay all the bills that weve established over the past several good years. We have to watch it very carefully, especially if this hot economy slows down.

Will there be a call for a tax cut?

Already there is an automatic tax rebate this summer. There will also be calls for some permanent income tax cuts. We are still taxing too much. I think we have to watch how much we cut because if we do go into a downturn the worst thing that a legislative body can do is to raise taxes. I think the big issues will be the budget. There will be a lot of arguing and debate over where money should be spent and how much should be sent back and those types of issues

Youve been named chairman of an expanded Commerce Committee, do you expect that electrical deregulation will be an issue again?

Theres been a few changes. Theyve taken regulated industries out of the Commerce Committee and formed a separate committee. But then they gave me the jobs, economic development and workers comp. They made commerce kind of a mega-committee. So I do sit on the Regulated Industries Committee though I dont chair it. Deregulation will be debated again and Im looking forward to being in the middle of that one.

Given the difficulties that are taking place in California do you think deregulation has a chance?

There are some very influential groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce and some of the large employers in the state who will be coming forth wanting de-reg. I go back to my same story, picking out the City of Preston as an example: if you have de-reg, you'll have companies coming in to take the ethanol plant, the creamery, but whats going to happen to that small farmer 15 miles southeast of Whalan? Thats my big concern.

Part of the debacle in California was because of deregulation, but also because they didnt create more power. Minnesota is going to be 5000 megawatts short in five years if we dont generate more electricity. Were going to have to look at alternative forms of energy. Deregulation will be a big debate.

Just about every school district in this area is showing declining enrollments, where do you see things going in education?

Education is huge and the governor, to his credit, is putting out many things on the table for debate. I think some of the things hes putting out we have to look at very closely. Probably the most controversial issue, that hes already pulled back on, was the county-wide schools. The governor was very strong about going to 87 school districts. I was very much against that and let my feelings be known. I do have concerns also about his going to 100% state funding because the one thing that keeps the local school boards in the ballgame is the fact that they have decisions to make over part of the funding and taxing of their own citizens. I dont think we want to take that away. If the state were to do 100% funding then some of the school board members Ive talked to have said, "Well, what then would you need us for? Why dont you just run it all?" I dont think we at the state level can run it as well as the board members who are in the middle of it every day. Its a local control issue.

I know that the House Republicans will be pushing for more property tax relief on the school end for the Ag sector. My problem with the way it is now is what does owning property have to do with the ability to pay? If you own a building in small town Minnesota doesnt mean that you have the ability to pay. Its somewhat of an antiquated system. I would like to see the school funding reduced on Ag land and commercial buildings in towns.

Education funding will be a huge issue: How do we make funding our schools more fair to everyone? We put all this money into education and the money follows the students and if you dont have the students youre not going to get the money. Part of the issue is the continued disparity that the cities receive versus out-state.

What about property taxes?

You think school funding is complicated, try the property tax system. Its just unbelievably complicated. The governor,to his credit, has also come out and said, "we have to simplify that", and I agree, I think we do. Its a nightmare when you try to figure it out. If the governor can come up with some ways to simplify the property tax system I certainly think he could get a lot of hearings in the legislature.

What do you see going on with Ag?

Were going to try to reduce property taxes regardless of what we do with the school issue. Theres a movement to increase ethanol by creating plants. One area is looking at soy oil in diesel fuel. I can see a soy-diesel plant in the area some day. Theres a tremendous amount of soybeans grown here. Anytime we can make fuel from a farm commodity, add value to it here, that certainly should be done.

Feedlots are a huge issue. Its extremely controversial and they will be an issue.

Do you have any opinions about the governor? Last year, Senator Scheevel said that he had brought the opposing parties closer together.

The one good thing about the governor is that he has brought the Democrats in the Senate and the Republicans in the House closer together because we have to get our act together to counter some of his proposals. Actually, its not all bad having that three-legged stool where you have to have a consensus among three groups. Its a different dynamic, one that were not used to, but its worked the last two years and I think it will work the next two years and then it will be up to the governor to decide if he wants to run again. I think if the election were today and the governor decided to run again, I think he would win. I dont know who could beat him.

Will his contract with the XFL be discussed by the legislature?

It has been discussed in committee and will continue to be discussed. And I havent been a vocal opponent of the governor doing this to this point, I need to research it more. Heres what it boils down to: is he a state employee? I would argue yes, hes a state employee. I would agree with Mike Hatch, the attorney general, that he is a state employee, even though hes elected. Im a state employee even though Im elected. Well, the reason that that question is so important is that if you are a state employee you have to live by the ethics code of being a state employee. One of the provisions in that code, and this is where it gets dicey, is that it says that an elected official may not profit by their status of being an elected official. So the question that someone has to answer is: is the governor profiting because of his status as governor? Thats the only question in my mind. And that question has to be answered.

1st District Congressman Gil Gutknecht has been talked about as

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