MARSHALL - Local Minnesota Senate candidates faced off Tuesday night at a debate hosted at Southwest Minnesota State University. Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and DFL challenger, Ted Suss of Lucan, discussed topics ranging from state budget to local education. Candidates received questions from both a local media panel and members of the audience.
Dahms and Suss are running against each other in the new Senate District 16.
The state's budget problems were one topic covered at the debate, and while both Dahms and Suss stressed the need for a long-term solution, they had different plans of action.
Photo by Deb Gau
Ted Suss, DFL candidate for Senate District 16, left, makes his opening statement during a candidate debate Tuesday, as Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, gets prepared.
"We need to balance the budget, and we need to do that by growing jobs," Dahms said. In order to give Minnesota a more "job-friendly climate," he said, legislators need to address taxes and regulations on businesses and encourage the growth of resources that businesses need. Those resources included reasonably-priced energy systems, strong transportation infrastructure and a skilled workforce.
Suss warned against using "temporary fixes" to balance the budget. Not only does the state need to cut the waste out of its spending, he said, it needs new permanent sources of revenue. Tax reforms are needed, he said, particularly ones that leave the middle class with a fairer share of the tax burden.
Education was another topic that got a lot of attention during the Senate debate. Dahms said Minnesota is facing a shortage of workers for certain job fields, from machinists to air conditioning specialists. He said he was in favor of funding job training programs and introducing more vocational and technical skills training in high schools. When it came to closing the achievement gap in Minnesota, Dahms said, "I think the first thing we have to do . . . is reduce the mandates to local schools. We have to get control back at the local level."
Dahms said the Legislature has also increased per-pupil funding dollars for small schools.
Suss said he agreed that change was vitally needed in preparing Minnesota's workforce. However, he said, "You don't do it by cutting funding for the public schools." In addition to expanding course offerings at vocational and technical schools, he said colleges and universities also needed to have resources to expand their programs.
Suss said reducing the pressure of mandates would help K-12 schools reduce administrative costs.
"I trust locally-elected boards of education to hire trained administrators," Suss said. "There is no better accountability system than parents."
Both candidates said they would support a proposed amateur sports center and expansions to the MERIT Center in Marshall. Dahms carried bills to support both projects in the last legislative session and said he would "do his level best" to help support them through bonding if they pass a public vote on Election Day.
In closing statements, Dahms said Minnesota has made strides forward, with a budget surplus, reduced unemployment and home values going up.
"I feel the Minnesota economy's on a rebound, but I feel we have a lot of work left to do," Dahms said.
Suss disagreed with Dahms' assessments.
"We don't have a balanced budget," Suss said. He went on to say that bipartisanship needed to be a central factor in the next legislative session.
"Do you remember how angry you were during the state shutdown?" he asked the audience. The shutdown was a result of the current legislative culture, he said.
MARSHALL - Minnesota House of Representatives candidates were also represented during Tuesday's debates at Southwest Minnesota State University. House District 16A candidates, Rep Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, and DFL challenger Al Kruse of Marshall, fielded questions from both a media panel and the audience.
Topics of discussion included the state budget and health care programs.
Candidates were asked what their top priorities were for the 2013 legislative session. Kruse said his priorities included balancing the budget and finding solutions to a need for increased state revenue. Tax reforms are needed, he said, especially to ease some of the burden on the middle class.
"That seems to be the fair way to do it," Kruse said.
Kruse said he was also in favor of increased funding for both K-12 and postsecondary education.
Swedzinski said he disagreed with putting the focus on taxation.
"We need to put investment into our state," Swedzinski said. His priority, he said, was "focusing on jobs, and growing the economy in our state."
Health care, specifically the MinnesotaCare program, was another topic that got a lot of focus during the debate. Swedzinski said health care was one of the fastest-growing costs in government spending in Minnesota, but he thought reducing those costs for individual people "isn't just about looking for ways to shift cost to the government." The state should look at measures like tort reform, and creating public/private partnerships for health care, he said.
There is evidence those measures could work, Swedzinski said. A pilot program to provide low-income, uninsured single people with vouchers for private health insurance ended up creating a savings of millions of dollars for the state, he said.
Kruse said voucher programs were just another cost shift.
"It shifts the cost from the government to the individual," he said. "We can't continue to shift the cost of care onto individuals."
Kruse said he was in favor of extending MinnesotaCare, adding that the program had low overhead and delivery costs for a high level of benefit through health care.
One area where Kruse and Swedzinski shared some common ground was in support of Local Government Aid for rural Minnesota. LGA money is vital to many small towns in order to provide basic services, they said.
"It's an equalizer," Kruse said of LGA - it's important because it makes up for a smaller tax base in rural communities. If cuts to LGA continue, it could hurt services and population in small cities, he said.
Swedzinski said legislators have tried to slow the trend of LGA cuts for small cities, by freezing LGA funding levels.
Both Swedzinski and Kruse said they were in favor of proposed projects to build an amateur sports center in Marshall and expand the MERIT Center in Marshall. Swedzinski said he believed it was his responsibility as a legislator to represent the wishes of his constituents. As a result of that, he said, he carried bills in support of state bonding dollars for the projects and would do it again if the projects pass a Nov. 6 vote.
Kruse said he "absolutely" supported the projects.
"It's good for the community, it's good for the region, and I will absolutely carry a bill," he said.