State legislators discuss hot topics

NEW ULM – A warm breakfast and the latest legislative news awaited guests at the Chamber of Commerce Hot Topic Breakfast at the New Ulm Country Club Friday.

The topic at the breakfast was the 2014 legislative session. Special guests Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) and Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) spoke on major issues under debate and answered a few questions.

The main talking point was the proposed Highway 14 project. Torkelson spoke first, saying Highway 14 was a topic on his plate before being elected, gaining significant attention based on responses from the area. Torkelson explained the current focus is on the Highway 14/Highway 15 interchange.

“I personally believe that is the logical next step. If we can’t fund the whole thing, I think the next pot of funding should go there.”

Dahms commented that a major variable was the extension of the road. Dahms believes the first step is to establish how far the four-lane road would travel. Torkelson remarked that he hoped a four-lane Highway 14 would extend to South Dakota.

Each table at the breakfast held post cards with addresses for key elected officials in the state. The audience was encouraged to send the postcards in support of the project being completed in 2014.

On the issue of a $1 billion Minnesota budget surplus, Torkelson commented the first step would be to cut back taxes established last year. Both Torkelson and Dahms aim to take a warehouse tax off the books before it takes effect in April.

“I know there are businessmen making decisions today whether or not to do their business in Minnesota or do their business in a neighboring state,” said Dahms. Dahms is confident the repeal will pass, but explained the warehouse tax needs to be repealed before the April deadline.

“This has to be done prior to April 1 or we are going ship several of our major warehouse out.”

On the subject of minimum wage, Dahms and Torkelson are in favor of a modest increase but worry a dramatic increase could cost jobs.

“As we make those entry-level jobs to expensive, we eliminate them,” said Torkelson. Dahms suggested a study be implemented to determine the consequences of increasing minimum wage.

Dahms emphasized the push to pass the Five Percent Campaign, which would increase the pay to home and community-based care providers. Torkelson agreed the issue needed to be on the front burner. As community-based services are major employers in rural Minnesota and help lower costs by keeping residents with disabilities active and in the community.

Dahms also expressed hesitation over the Anti-Bullying Bill, as he believed it would place heavy financial burdens on school districts.

Questions from the audience included the subject of bio-diesel. Torkelson commented that a proposed bill ending the bio-diesel mandate would not reach the floor. Dahms added that a compromise was likely to be reached insuring that all diesel fuel sold in Minnesota would contain at least five percent bio-diesel.

The subject of Sunday liquor sales was broached. Rep. Torkelson is against Sunday sales, explaining that it would create further expenses for liquor stores without adding significant revenue.

Sen. Dahms said a bill could be voted on, but would likely be a watered-down law restricting sales from microbreweries.

The two legislators closed by thanking their constituents and encouraging them to continue to contact them with concerns.

The next Hot Topics Breakfast will be a state of the city address from City Manager Gramentz and is scheduled for April 11.

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