Budget surplus was one of the first topics of conversation

By Robert Willams


Area legislators discussed current topics ahead of the upcoming legislative session on Friday, Dec. 9, via Zoom during the Legislative Kaffeeklatsch, hosted by West Central Initiative (WCI) and Lakes Country Service Cooperative (LCSC). 

Participating in the round table were District 4B Representative Jim Joy from Hawley, District 9B Representative Tom Murphy from Ottertail, District 12A Representative Paul Anderson from Starbuck and District 4 Senator Rob Kupec from Moorhead.

Minnesota’s projected $17.6 billion surplus was a big part of the early conversation.

“The big elephant in the room is the budget surplus and what’s going to happen to it,” said Rep. Anderson.

He noted he was shocked to see how big the surplus was when announced.

“It’s going to get used spending-wise or tax reduction-wise and I would hope there would be a good balance,” he said. 

Anderson, Rep. Joy and Sen. Kupec focused on the elimination of taxes on social security benefits as one of their lead issues. Sen. Murphy agreed but also highlighted supporting small businesses as one of his top priorities.

The statewide child care shortage was a topic all four spoke about.

“When I talk to some of the child care providers they are short on staff, the reimbursement rates are pretty low and we keep doing this as a grant,” said Kupec. “When you have a business, that’s a terrible way to plan your business. Am I going to get this two-year grant? I would really like to find some way to have a dedicated revenue source so that at least they know how much money they are going to be getting each year. We definitely need to get a more stable funding source for our child care providers.”

Rep. Murphy spoke to independent providers in his area and brought up the difficulties brought upon by regulation.

“They seem like they’ve just been over regulated. There are so many hoops and so many issues that it’s made it hard for them to even be in business,” said Murphy. “As a small business owner, I think we could do things to make their lives a little easier and really attract and make sure we keep them…there are a lot of people who are really concerned about that.”

The moderators presented topics along with questions posed by viewers on an array of subjects including local government aid, nursing homes, schools, teacher retention and bus driver shortages, transportation, bonding bills and capital investments, along with a lengthy discussion on water quality over the hour-long webinar.

One topic that struck close to the Frazee-Vergas area regarding education was an emphasis on Career Technical Education (CTE) classes and technical training at the high school level and how to find licensed staff.

“Whatever we do with the teacher shortage, we don’t want to make it more difficult for people to get into the profession,” said Kupec.

“I think our schools can do a good job in terms of training the students we have for some of our technical programs,” Anderson said. “I think we’re realizing that our technical schools that offer a two-year program and not as much student debt when kids finish those programs and they’re trained to do a specific job: electricians, plumbers, those types of people. We need to do a better job in the career tech education in our schools and I think the emphasis is coming back to that. That’s going to help at least train the people we have to keep those jobs and keep those folks here in greater Minnesota.”

The panel was introduced by WCI’s Dr. Anna Wasescha and the webinar concluded by LCSC executive director Jeremy Kovash. Moderating the discussion were Sam Walseth,  President of Capitol Hill Associates, and former senate majority leader Roger Moe.

A video recording of the webinar is available online at vimeo.com/779678056/8247106f62