by Paul Rignell
House District 16A Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake is hoping to cross into the state’s Senate chamber and maintain the Republican Party’s majority there when the new legislative term begins in January. She is running for the seat in the new Senate District 30 against the Democratic candidate Paul Perovich, also of Big Lake.
After redistricting that was drawn and approved for this season and the next 10 years, Senate District 30 also includes Elk River, Otsego, Hanover, St. Michael and Albertville.
The candidates followed House District 30A candidates Holly Neuman and Nick Zerwas as forum participants Oct. 6 in an event sponsored by the Elk River Area Citizens League at Elk River City Hall.
The discussions for Kiffmeyer and Perovich began with similar questions on the Capitol’s political divide, plus taxes and school funding.
“It is always a challenge to hold firm to your principles, and there is a division,” Kiffmeyer said on the Capitol’s political divide. “There is always those people who are for increasing taxes and increasing government spending, and those like me who believe that we have a spending problem, not that we don’t tax enough.
“I can disagree without being disagreeable,” she added, saying that she is known for “conducting myself always with an attitude of civility and being agreeable when we need to be disagreeable on the positions on the issues.”
“There’s obviously a problem in St. Paul,” said Perovich. “We’ve seen both sides move as far left and as far right as we can possibly take. What the citizens of this state and especially this district have to do is they have to elect somebody who is willing to come to the middle and play the moderate, and that is definitely me.
“We just aren’t getting anything done at the Legislature. We have to move back to the middle.”
On taxes and spending, Perovich started by saying that only in the last four years have legislators been looking at reducing the number of computer mainframes which the state uses for its operations.
He noted that his former employer, American Airlines, operating 5,000 worldwide flights daily with 88,000 employees, did it all with one mainframe. Meanwhile, he said, the state of Minnesota has used 22 mainframes each requiring a minimum of 27 technicians. If people have wondered why they couldn’t pay to renew license tabs online, it’s because the Commerce and Public Safety mainframes were not connecting, Perovich said.
“What we need to do is we need to shut these things down, and go to possibly two is all we would really need to run the state,” he said. “Over the lifetime of these mainframes, we could save $240 million as an example of that.”
Perovich said Republicans have forced property taxes to rise by eliminating the homestead credit at the Capitol. “We’re going to see property taxes go even higher in rural areas,” he said, “because they can’t come up with the money that the metro areas can.”
Kiffmeyer replied: “It is unnecessary to raise taxes. Especially in an economic downturn, it’s the worst thing you can do, even our university textbooks say so in colleges that are teaching them. You don’t raise taxes when people are down and out and hurting.
“What we need to remember is that when the economy does better, revenues to the state and all levels of government increase because the economy does better,” she added.
She said she has worked across the political aisle with Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a Democrat from Minneapolis, on addressing the mainframe and database issues. “We’ve made tremendous progress on that,” Kiffmeyer said. “It is about a six-year project.”
The industrial general property tax has been hurtful, she said — “It’s the most punitive tax that hurts jobs and hurts the local economy. It makes local economies ineffective and unable to be competitive with surrounding states.”
For the schools, the state’s per-pupil funding formula is “heavily skewed,” Kiffmeyer said.
“A student is a student no matter where you live in the state of Minnesota,” she added, and spoke in favor of each district getting the same amount of per-pupil funding to be allocated by their local officials. “I think that our folks out here, we can trust them to run education. … Let them be able to decide how to take care of their own kids. I think they do a very, very good job.”
Perovich noted that he comes from a family with roots in education, that his father was a principal of Blaine High School.
“Something that everybody has to understand is that the formulas that are put in place currently, it’s not necessarily that they skew towards the metropolitan area,” Perovich said, “the problem is we just don’t have the tax base up here … and we don’t have the levy ability up here, nor do we have the mill rates up here in order to fund our schools the way we want to.”
Kiffmeyer served as secretary of state, or Minnesota’s chief elections official, for two terms or eight years before her current service in the Minnesota House, where she was chief author of the voter ID amendment that passed through the House and Senate on its way to voters’ ballots next month.
In a segment of their forum where each candidate was allowed to ask one question of the opponent, Kiffmeyer asked Perovich how he might have voted on voter ID in the Legislature. Kiffmeyer stated the Democrats are against photo ID. Perovich said that was untrue.
“There’s nobody in this state that wants somebody to vote that cannot, ‘A,’ prove who they say they are, and ‘B,’ prove that they live in the precinct that they’re voting in. Everybody wants that,” Perovich said. He said the voting legislators saw an incomplete bill, and that he would have voted against it, and “the verbiage that will be on (the general ballots) is misleading.”
Among further questions submitted by the audience, moderator Charlie Blesener first asked the candidates to talk about costs to the state, counties and local units of government if the voter ID amendment should be approved at the polls.
Kiffmeyer responded: “Without a doubt, people do understand the requirement of a photo ID. It is a policy principle, that proving who you are is something that is so much a part of our society today that, yes, they are shocked that we don’t have it already.”
She noted more than $1 million has been reserved through a statutory bill to secure free state IDs for eligible voters who would not have them; she said 98 percent of the eligible voters do have them, and she said she supports state funding to cover additional costs cities or townships may incur. She said the new requirements would be incorporated in the training for precinct judges each election year — “When I was secretary of state, there were many law changes every single time.”
Perovich said he recently called Hennepin County to ask about the cost for a duplicate birth certificate. He said he was told the fee is $26. “Is the state going to pay that (as a person’s cost for meeting the voting requirement)? No. Is that a poll tax? Yes. Without a doubt, it is a poll tax.”
Perovich said that his father, who is 82, has no birth certificate or driver’s license and that Perovich and his six siblings are likely to be moving their father into a new home with assisted living care. He said they will do what’s necessary to re-register him for voting, but that many other seniors will not have that support when they may change addresses.
Other forum questions from the audience asked for the candidates’ views on state funding for all-day, everyday kindergarten, and funding for public television, specifically, “Are you for, or against, keeping Big Bird employed?” — a reference to the famous moment from the first Obama-Romney debate that occurred three nights earlier.
The full Senate District 30 forum will re-air 10 p.m. Tuesdays and 7 a.m. Saturdays up until Election Day.