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Paynesville Press - April 27, 2005

Legislator holds town meeting in Paynesville

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Funding for education and health care were hot topics during a town meeting hosted by Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) on Saturday morning at PAHS.

Just four area residents attended the meeting, but conversation was friendly with the meeting lasting nearly two hours. Paynesville Township resident Stan Putzke was the most vocal attendant, posing questions that ranged from school funding and state-run casino gambling to health-care funding and gay marriage.

Currently, the House of Representatives is considering legislation that would include large cuts to health care, Hosch told Putzke, in response to a question. If passed, the House version would mean that 40,000 Minnesota residents would be cut from Minnesota Care. These cuts would include children and families, he added.

Unfortunately, the proposal is attached to a huge omnibus bill - one of the practices that Hosch criticized in his introduction - that also includes pro-life legislation, said Hosch. This puts Hosch, who is pro-life, in a predicament. If he votes for the bill, he will be voting for cuts to health care. If he votes against the bill, he will be voting against pro-life legislation, he said.

Either way, he will be wrong, he added. "I've learned something about frustration since becoming a member of the House," he said.

"Bills need to be more transparent," Hosch continue. He wants to eliminate huge omnibus bills that include legislation on more than one topic so legislators don't have to choose between things they support.

When Putzke asked about his rising property taxes, Hosch indicated that he was passionate about property taxes and opposed to any increases in property taxes. Hosch believes the state needs to reallocate how it spends money instead of making quick fixes to the budget or forcing local governments to raise property taxes by cutting their aid. As the former mayor of St. Joseph, Hosch was furious when the state made deep cuts to Local Government Aid to help fix the state budget deficit. He decided that the only way he could change things was to become part of the process, he said. That's why he wanted to become a legislator.

The way property taxes are used to fund schools also needs to be changed, he added. Large, metropolitan schools in high-income areas should not be able to offer more than rural schools or those in poor neighborhoods, said Hosch. For example, recently the Little Falls school district had to close a library due to budget cuts. In the meantime, suburban football teams may have 30 assistant coaches. "How fair is that? Where are our priorities?" Hosch asked. "The schools here deserve as much as theirs."

According to Hosch, money for schools should be distributed more fairly. He believes the state should fund schools, with local governments and school districts funding special projects like pools and parks. State money would also be well spent on transit, township resident Darlene Thyen told Hosch. She related to riding the commuter trains in San Francisco and how convenient they were.

Hosch assured the group that the state has dedicated money (some in the 2005 bonding bill) to expand the Northstar Commuter Rail. Eventually, St. Cloud should be part of this rail system, he said.

One quick fix to the state's budget that Hosch was cautious about was a state-run casino. The latest casino bill would allow 2,000 state-owned slot machines at Canterbury Downs, with another 2,000 tribal-owned slot machines just outside the facility.

Hosch isn't opposed to the casinos, he said, but he doesn't want the state to use it as a quick budget fix and then have to rely on building more in the future to raise more money. "I'm willing to look at casinos on the merits," said Hosch, "But I want to ensure that it ends somewhere."

Putzke didn't agree with Hosch. "It's bad policy if a government entity is going to get into a vice to raise money," said Putzke. "Once you go down that road where do you stop, a casino for Trail Guards?" he continued.

Putzke also wondered why the government could even consider regulating marriage, referring to the on-going debate in the legislature about gay marriage. "The state shouldn't be in the business of regulating marriage," said Putzke who asserted that marriage is a religous matter. "Stick to civil unions."

Hosch agreed that the issue of gay marriage shouldn't be a priority in the legislature. "I think we need to look at it, but not at the risk of health care and other important issues. It needs to progress, but not at the risk of everything else."

Recently, a bill that would allow Minnesotans to vote on a constitutional amendment to insure that marriage remains only between a man and a woman passed in the House. While gay marriage is illegal in Minnesota now, a constitutional amendment would ensure the current law could not be overturned by the courts.

"We're getting so distracted by guns, gays, and abortion that we're not focusing on other important issues," Hosch said. While gay marriage and abortion are important issues and need to be discussed, they shouldn't keep the legislature from addressing more immediately-important issues, Hosch said.

Another topic of conversation during the meeting was the conceal and carry law, which the legislature will re-evaluate during this session. The legislature will probably re-word the part of the law that mandates how businesses must inform the public that guns are not allowed, said Hosch. Currently, the law states that businesses must post signs forbidding guns and they must inform people verbally that guns are not allowed. New legislation would allow businesses to do either.

Hosch supported the conceal and carry law, but he wondered why state courthouses were allowed to prohibit guns, while local government offices couldn't. This didn't seem fair, he said.

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