House members hear public comment on budget stalemate

Latasha Webb

Members of the state House Democratic Caucus listened to public testimony Wednesday morning at a forum designed to allow representatives to hear the public’s opinion on the Legislature.

“That’s our purpose today – to get input from you,” said House Minority Leader Tom Pugh, DFL-South St. Paul, to the Minnesotans who came to be heard.

About 100 Minnesotans attended the forum. Those who spoke were unanimously unhappy with the prospect of a government shutdown.

Each speaker detailed the difficulties Minnesotans will face if the Legislature is unable come to an agreement.

Mary McEvoy, a University professor, expressed outrage “that the governor and Republicans would rather give a tax break to a wealthy CEO than fund education.”

She added, “This isn’t just about finishing the job on time. This is about getting the job done right.”

Others in favor of increased education funding shared concerns over the fairness of the anticipated budget.

“I need $200 per kid. You give me anything less than $200 per kid, we’re going to cut programs,” said superintendent of school district 508 Gil Carlson.

“I’m laying off 103 staff members as a result of the budget now,” he told representatives.

Parents who were already feeling changes in their children’s schools added their input.

“The budget in our district has been cut every year since my daughter started kindergarten in 1993,” said Eunice Slager, mother of two in the St. Louis Park district.

“Some of the positions being cut (at my daughter’s school) are reading teachers – two of them,” said Scott Wenzel, a father of a third-grade girl who has struggled with reading.

Wenzel said the Legislature might cut costs today, but in the future Minnesotans will pay the price.

For many college students, the time to pay the price is coming even sooner.

If the government shuts down July 1, the University could conceivably cut the second summer session. If the Legislature agrees on a budget by June 30, college students still face fall tuition hikes.

Students who expressed their anxiety to The Minnesota Daily agreed on one issue: They will suffer because of higher tuition.

“I’ll probably have to cut back on credits and not graduate on time,” said Ali Hanson, a junior majoring in
education.

She added the prospect of shutting down the University during second summer session would be unfair to students.

“We shouldn’t be punished. Some people need these classes to graduate,” she said.

John Taylor, a transfer student at the University, said partisan politics is not an acceptable reason to allow a government shutdown.

He added that he, like Hanson, would probably be forced to take fewer credits and work more hours to balance the higher cost of tuition.

“You have to understand the fundamental importance of education,” Anoka-Hennepin School Board Chairman Mike Sullivan told representatives at Wednesday’s meeting.

“The fact of the matter is, to many districts in the state, the funding on the table is simply inadequate,” he said.

Wenzel summarized the overall mood of the public.

“These cuts are real, and they’re hurting,” he said.

Pugh assured attendees their comments would be shared with Republican House members later that day.

Latasha Webb covers Legislature and
welcomes comments at [email protected]