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Legislators explain session at BE forum

By Staff | May 27, 2012

There was no lack of questions for local legislators at an Eggs and Issues Forum Wednesday night in Blue Earth.

About 30 people attended the forum and listened to Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) and Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) give a report on the recent legislative session.

Then, audience members had a turn to speak what was on their mind.

Gary Agren of Blue Earth first commended Sen. Rosen on her work on the Vikings stadium bill, calling the team an asset to the state.

But, he then asked how the new electronic gaming devices are going to affect local charitable gambling. The new gaming is part of the finance package of the stadium plan.

Agren, commander of the American Legion Post in Blue Earth, says the Legion has charitable gaming such as pull tabs now.

“We are able to donate $20,000 back into the community now,” Agren says. “My concern is how electronic pull tabs will affect us.”

Rosen responded that the new electronic gaming should increase the amount the Legion can make on gambling.

“You can keep your paper gaming you have, or switch to the electronic version or do both,” Rosen says. “Our projections are that this kind of gaming will increase with the electronic gaming devices. People prefer the modern technology.”

Rosen says the organizations who do charitable gaming now get $44 million a year. With electronic gambling devices, that amount is expected to pull in an extra $66 million a year.

“The state will get $56 million a year from this gambling, which will go towards the stadium cost,” Rosen says.

Blue Earth resident Al Thielfoldt asked what happens if those amounts are not collected.

“Will the difference have to be made up from the general fund?” he questioned.

Rosen said, no, that tax dollars would not be used.

“We have confidence in these numbers,” she says. “But if we need to, we would look at something else, like Racino, to fund the stadium.”

Several persons voiced concern over the new proposal to require photo ID cards to vote. The legislators said the decision will be made in November by the voters themselves, and would be a constitutional amendment.

Gunther said he expects between 75 percent and 80 percent of the voters will favor it.

“This will make sure everyone only votes once, where they are supposed to vote at,” he says. “It will maintain the integrity of the voting system. We have seen instances of voting fraud in every election. It happened in Fairmont in the last election.”

Local citizens had plenty of questions about how persons without driver’s licenses will be able to get a photo ID card.

Gunther and Rosen say the voting cards would be available at courthouses across the state.

“Every possible scenario has been studied,” Gunther says. “We will make this work.”

Ken Queensland asked about the state repaying the schools the money that was withheld in the past.

Gunther says some of that money was recently repaid, more than $300 million, from the recent state surplus.

“We had a bill to add another $400 million in repayment, but the governor vetoed it,” he says. When asked why, the answer was that the governor did not want the surplus reserves used.

Gunther also pointed out that the actual funding for schools was increased this year.

Other questions from local citizens had to do with cuts in welfare (Health and Human Services), training for employees of small businesses and job creation.

One comment concerned cuts to county funding.

Faribault County engineer John McDonald had praise for the two legislators, thanking them for their support of the recent bonding bill.

McDonald says the county will receive $900,000 for road and bridge projects this year.

The forum was sponsored by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce.