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Senator Ropes in Preston: We are all in this together


Fri, Jun 5th, 2009
Posted in Government



State Senator Sharon Erickson-Ropes-DFL addressed the Preston City Council at their June 1 meeting. She discussed the recent legislative session and inquired as to how the city dealt with the loss of Local Government Aid (LGA) funds totaling about $45,000 this last December.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman explained the unallotment of expected funds required the city to use reserves as 95% of the budget was already spent at the time the reduction of funding was announced in December 2008. Capital purchases have been delayed. He added Preston is in the middle of the road when compared with other cities in the amount of reserves held compared to general fund expenditures.

Ropes asked about the city's bonding rating, which can be jeopardized if a city doesn't maintain adequate reserves or savings. A lower rating would result in higher interest rates on bonds. Hoffman said Preston, like many small communities, is unrated. She was not aware of that fact.

Ropes explained the state legislature presented Governor Tim Pawlenty, at the end of their session, a second fully balanced budget appropriations bill, which he later vetoed. She added that he promised to balance the last two billion himself stating, "He doesn't need the legislature." The senator made it clear that the legislature's budget protected LGA with zero cuts. The governor needs to come up with a plan by July 1, but as of now there are a lot of unknowns. There are rumors that the governor will postpone the cuts as much as possible to the second year of the biennium, supposedly giving city and county governments time to plan.

Ropes concluded the only choice may be to raise property taxes. She insisted property taxes are "the hardest way for tax payers to pay taxes," saying "income taxes are fairer." Hoffman added property taxes are especially hard on retirees.

The senator said the state is facing the largest deficit in its history due mostly to the recession of the global economy. She said the state expects 20% less revenue due to the recession. K-12 education will be held flat thanks to the federal stimulus dollars coming in. She expects cuts for colleges and universities. Pawlenty has already cut General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC), which will hurt the "poorest of the poor" according to Ropes.

Unallotment

Ropes was critical of Pawlenty's plan to use his unallotment authority to balance the budget. She noted it has only been used five times in the state's history, twice by Pawlenty. The senator suggested the unallotment authority used by the governor last December was an appropriate use of a fiscal tool and the way it was intended to be used near the end of a budget cycle and in an emergency. However, this is different as he is using it to balance the budget at the beginning of the biennium on his own without the input of legislators.

Roads

Senator Ropes emphasized that the Southeast part of the state has a high percentage of poor roads. She noted the area's topography adds to the construction difficulty. There are 400 bridges in Fillmore County. She suggested the additional five cent per gallon gas tax is being used in part to move up the current improvements being made to Highway 52 north of Fountain.

Health Care

Ropes insisted that the one thing that could help everyone, including school districts, cities, and counties, would be to get a handle on the health care crisis. Health care costs have seen double digit increases. She said she is one of two nurses in the state senate. She wants everyone to have access to affordable health care, insisting costs need to be contained.

Historic Forestville

Both Ropes and Rep. Greg Davids-R have promised to do everything they can to keep the Meighen Store Site open. She declared the legislative package would keep it open. She warned the governor could go back into the Department of Employment and Economic Development bill, which does have funds for it, and make additional cuts that could eliminate funding for the site.

Ropes remarked, "We'll be getting through this together." She compared the budget problems to the 2007 flood which was gotten through by working together. The senator, speaking of political party differences, said we all live together and need to respect one another and get along.

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