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Legislators discuss priorities with Chamber

By Karen Colbenson

kcolbenson@postbulletin.com

Four state legislators came to town Tuesday to speak at the annual legislative lunch at the Austin Country Club.

Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem and Reps. Jeanne Poppe, Robin Brown and Steve Sviggum discussed topics including education, health care, transportation, energy, state budgets and taxes with members of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Sandy Forstner, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the lunch is an opportunity for chamber members to learn what has been happening at the Capitol and get questions answered.

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Poppe discussed area needs and said she was tired of schools having to cut programs.

"We have to provide funding for education," the Austin Democrat said. "Cutting schools down to the bare bones is unfair. Education is what brought all of us here."

Brown, a first-term Democrat who is an art and photography teacher at Albert Lea High School, agreed with Poppe, saying that Albert Lea schools are suffering because of a lack of funding and are preparing to cut 25 teachers.

According to Brown, the House education committee is looking at a 3 percent increase in funding, which is higher than the 2 percent that Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed. And $106 million is being proposed for special education funding.

"We want to have excellent education for everyone," Brown said. "We understand needs in special education funding."

Brown said lawmakers are trying to focus on the issues that are important to people in the state. "We are trying to do that in a fair and fiscally responsible way," she said.

Sviggum, a Republican from Kenyon and former Speaker of the House, said the path lawmakers are on now is a path of conflict and thinks the current budget is sufficient.

"It seems there is a new tax being proposed every day," he said. With a state surplus of $2.2 billion, he said, "we don’t need tax increases. It’s absolutely wrong the direction we are going."

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Sviggum’s priorities include limiting the growth of government and more equitable reimbursement of nursing homes in greater Minnesota.

Senjem, whose areas of interest include higher education and agriculture, said the government has a lot of work to do concerning energy bills.

"We’ll see a lot more windmills on the horizon in the next 20 years," said the Republican from Rochester.

Forstner said there are many people in the Austin community who are concerned with taxation and the level of increases that are being discussed in St. Paul, and how that will affect jobs and business growth in the city.

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