Around 35 people attend session at city hall

    Taxes and spending, nursing home and mental health funding, Local Government Aid, transportation and marijuana legalization were just some of the topics touched on this week when the Crookston area’s legislative contingent hosted a town hall meeting at city hall.

    Around 35 people filled the city council chambers to talk about issues facing Minnesota and the state legislature with District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel (R-Crookston) and District 1 State Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks).

    Johnson perhaps best summed up the current Republican point of view in St. Paul – which features a DFL governor and DFL-controlled House, and a Republican majority in the Senate – when he said that Gov. Tim Walz’s administration and the House are “really about increasing revenue, meaning tax increases.” Meanwhile, Johnson said, Republicans in the Senate “want to make sure that agencies and programs are working before we reward them with more money.”

    Here’s a rundown of the highlights of the town hall session:

    • Kiel said she’s disappointed in the 1,100-page House Health and Human Services bill because it cuts nursing home funding. Funding increases approved four years ago are starting to have a positive impact on rural nursing homes, she said, but if the current House HHS bill becomes law, more rural nursing homes will be at risk of closure. “We’re already having trouble taking care of seniors and vulnerable adults,” Kiel said. “There aren’t a lot of services to begin with in this area and rural Minnesota.” Kiel said a rural nursing home director was in her office recently, in tears.

    • Northwest Mental Health Center CEO Shauna Reitmeier attended the session to advocate for continued funding of what she said are critical mental health initiatives, which she said appear to be at risk because funding is not included in the Senate bill. “This is critical funding,” Reitmeier said. “You can’t pick up a newspaper without seeing mental health and substance abuse issues. This funding is critical to our region.”

    Kiel agreed, saying farmers are struggling with mental health issues, and they’re rampant in schools, too, with students struggling both in and outside of the classroom.

    Johnson echoed that.

    “We hear mental health in every conversation, whether it’s schools, jails, and finding beds,” he said.

    • While the national economy is strong, a reduced surplus shows Minnesota’s is starting to lag, Johnson said. That’s because, he noted, taxes are too high and individuals and businesses are looking for tax-friendlier climates elsewhere. “If you just increase the size of the pie, that means more taxes,” Johnson said. “In the Senate, we’re trying to stop a lot of this stuff and make things we currently have better and more efficient.”

    On Walz’s proposed gas tax increase, session attendee Terry Wolfe said he did the math and determined that a person driving 10,000 miles a year would buy 400 gallons of gas. If the gas tax increase became law, it would cost that person around $40 a year, Wolfe said. “That doesn’t seem like a lot more,” he said.

    To “families trying to put food on the table,” $40 a year is a lot of money, Kiel responded. “You’re right, a wealthy person can pay $40 and not worry about it, but people who are struggling…there are already a lot of other services that are costly,” she said.

    • On LGA, Johnson said he doesn’t expect a “lot of movement” during the 2019 session because there are “too many disagreements” on it.

    • A woman in the audience asked about the prospects of legalizing recreational marijuana in Minnesota and said she’s against it. Kiel said she is, too.

    “I really have a hard time with this,” she said. “It might have some merit in dealing with health care issues, but there are too many unknowns as far as legalizing it.” Kiel added that the “challenges and costs” in states that have legalized recreational pot, such as Washington State and Colorado, need to be looked into. “I really worry about the children,” she added.

    Kiel said she’s seen people she grew up with that had tremendous promise fall far short of their potential because of marijuana.

    “And it is such a higher strength than what was available when I was a teenager; I just think it could really do societal damage,” Kiel continued. “It puts law enforcement at a disadvantage. I just think we need to slow up a little bit and think about it. But it’s being pushed nationwide, you can see it.”