Rochester residents carry sales tax message to Capitol (video)
ST. PAUL — In what might be the largest turnout thus far, 500 Rochester residents descended on the state Capitol on Wednesday to show their support for the city as part of Rochester on Tour at the Capitol.
Participants had one key message for lawmakers during this year’s event — give Rochester residents the chance to vote on a half-cent sales tax extension to fund higher education, transportation and economic development projects. Rochester resident Deb Nusbaum was among those turning out to show their support for the sales tax extension.
"I’m interested in seeing that the sales tax extension is given back to the people of Rochester to vote on," said Nusbaum, a retired IBM employee and volunteer with the Rochester Senior Center. "It is very important for the state and our local community."
The theme for the eighth annual event was "Growing Minnesota’s Future. Today!" Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President John Wade said he believes the strong turnout shows that residents support the chamber’s efforts to let residents weigh in on the sales tax extension. He said most of the projects that would be funded by the sales tax have regional significance.
"Rochester has 40,000 people a day that come into our community to work. The fact is that we can’t survive, let alone thrive, without our neighbors," Wade said.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton addressed the group during a luncheon in downtown St. Paul. He received strong applause from the audience for reiterating his proposal to invest $28 million in the expansion of Rochester's Mayo Civic Center as part of a $1 billion public works borrowing bill proposal. Republican legislative leaders have said they are not interested in having any type of bonding bill this year except for emergency items. Dayton called on the crowd to help him make the case for his bonding bill.
"That is why I am enlisting the support of those who understand the benefits of this project and understand why it is a sound financial investment in our future, and that is why legislators have events like this — so they can hear from their constituents," Dayton said in an interview following his speech.
He also said he supports the city’s efforts to get authorization from the Legislature to allow Rochester voters to decide whether to extend the sales tax.
Residents also got a chance to meet with lawmakers, attend panel discussions and watch legislative committees in action. The day wrapped up with a reception featuring live music and food at the National Guard Armory in St. Paul.
Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said this annual event not only makes an impression on lawmakers — it also gives Rochester citizens the chance to see their government in action.
"After the first year (of Rochester on Tour) one byproduct is that our own citizens were educated. It wasn’t just about coming up here to educate the Legislature."