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Deficit Looms, DFL Takes Control as Minn. Session Starts

Posted at: 01/08/2013 7:14 PM
Updated at: 01/09/2013 1:41 PM
By: Alan Hoglund
ahoglund@wdio.com

Solving a budget deficit is priority number one during the legislative session that began Tuesday afternoon.

With the sound of a gavel, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie called the House of Representatives to order a few minutes after noon. The Senate followed suit soon after.

Cheering and applause came after lawmakers taking their oaths of office, which will likely be one of the happiest moments of the session. Freshman Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said "it is really hard to even put into words."

More than 40 lawmakers are freshmen, meaning they've never held office before, and the balance of power has shifted to the DFL, which now has total control for the first time in more than 20 years.

In the coming weeks, Simonson's focus, and the focus of the approximately 200 other lawmakers will turn to the $1.1 billion deficit. The 2013 deficit is about five times smaller than the deficit lawmakers faced in the beginning of 2011, but it will likely take several months to come up with solutions.

"Government needs to look at how to do it better, not with more money," Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, told Eyewitness News when asked Tuesday about how to best solve the deficit. Representing Aitkin County, Ruud said a more efficient government is the answer.

"That is the direction we should go," she said.

Meanwhile Simonson said it will take a balance of spending cuts and new revenue, specifically through higher income taxes on the wealthy. "I think at the end of the session you'll see us pass a budget that the governor will sign that will be fair across the board and it's time to take that action."

If Gov. Mark Dayton does as he has in the past, he will ask the wealthy for more. When Eyewitness News asked Ruud to respond, she said "why should they have to pay more? They're the people that invest in our state and they bring us jobs."

Many times the word "division" best describes how budget talks impact a group of lawmakers. But Simonson and Ruud said the people of Minnesota are tired of the partisanship.

"We need to work together to solve the problems and get rid of the bickering that we have down here at the capitol," Ruud said.

Simonson said "you'll see an effort, myself included, to reach out across the aisle every opportunity that we get."

Dayton will present his budget proposal on January 22.