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Big Fight on State Budget Deficit a Certainty

Sen. Ron Latz and Rep. Steve Simon told a town hall audience Monday that a majority of Minnesotans want a compromise between cuts and revenue hikes to reach a balance.

"A battle royale is coming."

Those were the words of state Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-District 44), of St. Louis Park, as he told an audience Monday night at in Hopkins that he sees the current legislative session in Minnesota going longer than expected due to the fight over how to deal with the state's $6.2 billion dollar deficit.

Latz and Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 44A), also of St. Louis Park, held the joint town hall meeting to both update constituents as well as to hear their questions and concerns.

Both said the Democratic minority and Gov. Mark Dayton want to look at solving the deficit through a compromise of both new revenues and cuts. They think the Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, favor no new revenues of any kind. Cuts are inevitable, they said, especially in higher education, which GOP lawmakers have made a priority for big reductions.

"Cuts to higher ed will simply result in a jump in tuition, which is a backdoor tax increase, in effect," Simon said.

The state constitution mandates that the budget must be balanced.

Simon pointed out that 85 percent of the budget goes toward higher education, K-12 education, health and human services, and property tax aid and relief.

“There is a misconception out there about areas such as state employees and the classic ‘people on welfare,’” he said. “In fact, all of the people employed by the State of Minnesota are only 11 percent of the total budget, and just two percent of the budget goes to welfare recipients.”

Latz added that, “We have really made cuts in the past, so there is virtually no waste, fraud or abuse to go after.”

When polled, no one in the audience expressed being in favor of resolving the budget strictly through cuts or strictly through revenue increases. A combination of the two was overwhelmingly favored.

The audience of roughly 20 people also brought up several other subjects.

It's unknown how big the state's contribution to the Southwest light rail corridor will be this session because neither the House or Senate transportation committee chairman has publicly expressed an opinion on the matter. Before the start of the session in early January, both Latz and Simon said they worried that there might be cuts in what the state would spend even though the majority of the funding for the system will come from the federal government. The line would run from Minneapolis through the southwest suburbs, including St. Louis Park, and down to Eden Prairie.

The light rail line was that Dayton proposed last week, but both Latz and Simon they plan to request money for the project.

The legislators added that talk of a new Vikings stadium is just that — talk.

“No specific plan has been presented for us to react to, and until that happens, it is difficult to take a position,” Simon said.

Both he and Latz said there would not be funding of a stadium through any general fund revenues.

Simon went on to say the Vikings still have the option of renewing their soon-to-expire lease by signing a much shorter one-, three- or five-year lease to continue playing in the Metrodome until the matter of a new stadium is resolved.

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