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Thissen: 'The Budget is Not Balanced'

Rep. Paul Thissen said he will be focusing on long-term job creation this session.

With the Minnesota State Legislature set to resume Jan. 24, Patch spoke with House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (D-Richfield/Minneapolis) about the upcoming session, his priorities, his opinions on recent scandals and the Vikings stadium debate.

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Patch: What are your top priorities for this upcoming legislative session?

Thissen: My top priority is doing everything we can to get people back to work and get the economy going again. Last week the DFL rolled out some proposals to get people into long-term careers, so I’m hopeful we can work with the Republicans to get it passed.

Patch: Are there any bills you authored in 2011 that are carrying over or new bills you plan to push in 2012 that you want your constituents to be aware of?

Thissen: I only introduced one bill last year, which passed into law. … [However] I do think this DFL jobs packet—and we’re open to input from the Republican party—is something that we need to get focused on and get passed. I’d also like to see some legislation passed that will give some property tax relief to residents in Minneapolis and Richfield.

Patch: Do you think this session will be more productive in light of the shutdown last summer?

Thissen: I think if there is a clear focus on the central thing of getting the economy going that we are going to have a productive session. However, if our focus shifts over to Constitutional amendments and things like that, then I think we experience some more gridlock like last year.

Patch: The state now has a reported $876 million surplus. How does that affect the budget focus in 2012?

Thissen: We don’t really have surplus. In 2013, we are facing $1.3 billion deficit on paper and that doesn’t include the money we’ve loaned to schools and so on. The budget, by any stretch of the imagination, has not been balanced and at the same time property taxes are going up. I think the year will run smoother, but I don’t think anybody should be under the impression that we have a surplus.

Patch: How do you think Gov. Dayton’s bonding bill should be structured to maximize job creation?

Thissen: I think the main thing to think about with the bonding bill is creating a plan for long-term job creation. Capital improvement projects—roads and bridges and transit—are important. Investments in higher education are going to be critical as well. I think it’s important to be focusing on the quality of life here, too—investing in civic centers.  We need to ask ourselves what can we invest in today that will benefit us in the long-term.

Patch: Now that we are getting closer and closer to the 2012 election, and the time when voters will have to cast their vote for or against , what do you think the outcome will be?

Thissen: First of all, I think it’s a mistake that it’s even on the ballot. I am cautiously optimistic that people will side with opportunity. I’m hopeful that Minnesota will be the first state in the country to stand up for this. … This amendment goes against what our country is all about, which is equal treatment and opportunity for everybody.

Patch: The Republican Party in Minnesota has taken a few hits here in the last few months with regards to Sen. Amy Koch and former party chair, Tony Sutton.  How do you think this will play out in the new session?

Thissen: Well I hope we can move on from some of the personnel issues. The more important thing for me is the ideas the Republican Party is standing up for. A lot of the fights happening in the legislature are the result of two very distinct visions on how we can move forward. Again, getting people back to work is a top priority and .

Patch: In November, and you said it didn’t rank as a priority for you, now that there has been more movement are you supporting a particular site?

Thissen: Since November, I think the main thing that has happened is that a lot of the different options have been taken off the table, which I think is productive because you can have some more meaningful discussions. I think the Minneapolis is more politically viable. For instance, the Republican leadership has said—and I think correctly—that they are not going to allow a local sales tax increase to go forward without a referendum. If that is the case if they have to go to a referendum, then I believe that proposal is viable.

Mike McLean January 23, 2012 at 02:17 PM
It wasn't that long ago that the Democrats were complaining about Minnesota having bridges that will fall. So what did Gov Dayton put in his bonding bills?? Light Rail Transit Civic Center in Rochester Civic Center in St Cloud Expand Hormel Institute U of M MNSCU Rebuild Nicollet Mall St Paul Saints ball park Please remember that government does not create jobs, businesses create job. So just get out of the way.....
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) January 23, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Hi there Mike! Just curious, are you a small business owner?
Dennis Gillespie January 23, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Mike I agree, these projects may not benefit all State Tax Payers. When will we ever learn that Light Rail only costs money and takes away from highway projects and does not solve traffice problems. And here we are wanting to build aother stadium????
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) January 23, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Hey there Dennis, why do you say that a light rail system doesn't solve traffic problems? I get that it causes roads to be blocked off for a minute or two as the train rolls by, but I personally think it's a pretty good investment in alternative transportation. Just interested in more of what you're thinking. Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting!
Dennis Gillespie January 24, 2012 at 03:47 PM
My understanding is that mass transit get 15% of the Minnesota Transportation budget and serves 4% of the population. Also if you read the Metropolitan Transit website, fares do not have to exceed 35% of their budget and it is actually more like 22%, so that means our gas taxes go toward mass transit fees. The Hiawatha line costs could have put an additonal traffic lane all the way around the city and which do you think probably would carry the most riders? It is proven that light rail has not reduced congestion in any city that it has been installed. So much of our Federal Gas tax is offered to States to build light rail, but the States have to come up with additional funding for these projects to get the Federal funds and then after light rail is built we have to subsidize it to keep it operating. I would be wonderful if we could give light rail to a private concern to run, would save us a bundle each year. the only little problem is they can not make it pay.
Brie Shultz January 25, 2012 at 03:21 AM
My understanding is you pulled your numbers from a right-wing article. I googled it. I also googled other articles where the rider percentage was significantly larger and from everything that I can tell, the last few years have had record numbers on MN mass transit. Please try and fact check before you paste in cherry picked numbers. Light rail ridership is going to continue to grow as the track lines expand out into St. Paul/Eden Prairie and become more convenient. Oil just becomes more expensive every year as other countries use more and more; eventually it will run out. We need to start using other modes of transportation besides just cars. It's called planning ahead, Dennis. Have you ever even been on the light rail in the last few years? Or ever?
Dennis Gillespie January 25, 2012 at 04:33 AM
Brie my right wing source was the website of the Metropolitan Transit commission which states that no more than 35% of the operating revenue has to come from fares. What this means when ridership goes up so does the amount of the susidies necessary to support the ridership. It would be different if fares covered 100% of the operating budget. And yes will run out of oil if Iran blocks the straights of Hormuz and Obama blocks the XL Pipeline from Canada. And he won't let us get at our other resources. Funny think about trains they have to have tracks to run on, I think that is why we got rid of them in the first place.
Dennis Gillespie January 27, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I picked up on a couple of pretty straight forward and basically pretty easy to understand numbers on the light rail. The cost to build the Hiawatha Line will cost the tax payers $41 Million per year for 30 years for the bonding principal and interest at 4%, Operating costs per year is $15 million for a total of $56 million and fares on the light rail are $10 million leaving an annual shortfall of $46 million. And this will be a continuing problems for the next 30 years which our kids have been committed to to maintain and now we have the Central Corridor going in and the Northstar line operating and they want to do the SW Metro line. Even the cities that probably need the various rails systems such as New York and Chicago do not generate enough revenue and are plagued with always looking for subsidies and Union Labor Issues.

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