Herald Journal Herald and Journal, March 11, 2002

Small cities dodge budget ax, at least for now

By Ryan Gueningsman

Small cities such as Winsted and Lester Prairie escaped at least the worst of the state's budget shortfall for the time being, Rep. Tony Kielkucki said.

Kielkucki described recent legislative action, including Governor Jesse Ventura's veto and the ensuing legislature's override of it, among other issues.

Overriding the veto bypassed the governor's budget plan, which would have eliminated the local government aid given to small cities ­ the City of Winsted expected that to amount to about $80,000.

The override is one of many issues that Kielkucki took part in during an exceptional legislative session.

Still hot to the touch

The budget shortfall will remain an ongoing hot issue, since the House and Senate devised a system of three phases to handle the shortfall, Kielkucki said.

The phases may be an uphill battle, since the governor vetoed the first phase and may resist the next phases, Kielkucki said.

"We did override the governor's veto, so we have phase one completed," Kielkucki said.

Right now, the House and Senate are working on phase two. That phase involves $400 million more dollars for the 2002-03 budget.

Following that, the House and Senate will work on getting phase three through, which deals with the 2004-05 budget.

"Between the first two phases, we will have taken care of about four-fifths of the 2004-05 budget deficit, so getting that completely taken care of is what we're going to tackle next," Kielkucki said.

"I have a feeling we'll probably get phase one and phase two completed," Kielkucki said. "Phase three might be a little more difficult.

"Some are hoping the economy will rebound so they're not as likely to cut things."

Local schools hit

"We tried to hold k-12 education as harmless as we could. Some school districts are still going to have a hard time, though," he said.

Schools that did not pass referendums will take the hardest hit.

"In our area, Glencoe-Silver Lake will probably be in the roughest shape," he said.

"They (GSL) didn't pass their referendum so they have to make some serious cuts. All districts are going to make some cuts," Kielkucki said. "It's the way life is today."

Kielkucki talked to Lester Prairie Supt. James Redfield recently and Redfield feels that the school will be able to weather the cuts.

"They always say they could use more money, but they'll be able to handle it," Kielkucki said.

"Howard Lake (Waverly-Winsted), I think, will do OK too," Kielkucki said.

The governor was also going to put a sales tax on all schools. "I figured it out, and across the state, each student would have a $50 tax. Every school district would have taken a $50 hit per student," Kielkucki said.

"We held that harmless," he said. "We only cut $15 million out of k-12 education and most of that went to the Department of Education."

Kielkucki serves on the k-12 finance committee.

Dakota Rail not on radar

"As of yet, we haven't heard much about the Dakota Rail," Kielkucki said. "There are two major issues involving railroads right now, and they are not local ­ one is commuter rail, and one is the Rochester rail line."

"As far as Dakota Rail, there hasn't been much talk. That one hasn't hit the radar screen yet," he said.

Other bills

Throughout the session, Kielkucki authored several bills.

One particular bill involves group homes and rehabilitation places, such as the Adult Training and Habilitation Center in Winsted.

"We created a problem a few years ago when corrections set a new liability limit," Kielkucki said. "So, some of the group homes are at that liability limit, but they have kids that come from Human Services at a different, higher limit.

"The problem is that insurers always go with the highest, so they had to insure all of these people, even though 80 percent of the population drove the rates through the roof.

"My bill tried to equal it out for group homes and we were able to get it through the House floor, but it didn't make it through the Senate, so we have to work a little more on it."

The bulk of Kielkucki's work, however, lies with his position on the state government finance committee.

"That deals with things like contracts, and looking at the governor's budget, especially for his agencies. We slashed some of his agencies pretty good ­ there was a lot of wasteful spending," Kielkucki said.

He also worked a bill through for the Minnesota State High School League, which deals with corporate sponsorships and generating more revenue for it.

"It's been a busy session," Kielkucki said.

The president's visit

Kielkucki, and his wife Lavon, heard President George W. Bush speak when he addressed students at Eden Prairie Schools last Monday.

Bush made a visit to Minnesota in order to shore up support for Republican Norm Coleman's bid for the Senate, which will be a tight race against Democrat Paul Wellstone.

"They put all the high school kids in front of the stage so he could address the kids. There were about 3,000 students there.

"We had close seats, but when he went to shake hands following his speech, he went to the students.

"It was still kind of interesting to hear him speak. It was the first time I've been able to get a good view of him and really hear him."

"It was an honor to have the tickets to see him like this," he said.

It took most of the day to get through security and necessary precautions for a presidential visit.

"The security was really high. We had to all be searched ­ all the students too. Once you were in, you couldn't leave," he said.

The president ran a little late. The Kielkuckis waited about three hours. Upon his arrival, the president spoke for about 45 minutes. It took another 20 minutes to get out of the building, and about an hour to get out of the traffic jam outside, he said.

"It was worth it to see a president," Kielkucki said. "The thing that was interesting to me was to see how the kids responded. They were really respectful and it was kind of encouraging to see their patriotism, and they really got into the speech."

The main issues Bush discussed was patriotism, the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, and assuring students that the government was doing everything it could possibly do, he said. Bush told them not to live their lives in fear, Kielkucki said.

"The second thing Bush talked about was the importance of education, especially dealing with teachers. The biggest part of his speech talked about the educational programs he wanted.

His goal was that every single child in America would learn to read.

"He figures learning to read is the key to education ­ which is true," Kielkucki said.

The third thing Bush did was to honor a few people for their services ­ a World War II veteran who read to the blind, and Mary Jo Copeland for her efforts in feeding the poor.

"It was a nice afternoon," he said. It was kind of fun to see him. I mean, you see him on TV, or in a big crowd, but it was unique to hear him speak and be a part of the audience."

Keeping in touch

The public must keep in touch with him about issues that hit close to home, Kielkucki said.

"People can e-mail, write, give a phone call ­ I take them all," he said.

Kielkucki may be reached via e-mail at kielkucki@house.leg.state.mn.us, by mail at 367 State Office Building, 100 Constitution Ave., St. Paul, MN 55155, or call at (651) 296-1534.

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