Local Minnesota legislators provide 'optimistic' update, field questions
MOORHEAD — The League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley and the Lake Agassiz
Regional Library co-hosted a Minnesota District 4 legislative forum Wednesday, April 12, featuring three local elected officials.
District 4 Senator and Minority Whip Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, District 4A Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, and District 4B Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, gathered with about 40 constituents at the Moorhead Public Library to give an update on the current session where state legislators are trying to get a bonding bill as well as budget bills past the finish line in mid-May. Questions from the crowd were read by moderator Lauri Winterfeldt, former Moorhead City Council member and current director of Moorhead Community Education.
"A strong democracy depends on an informed citizenry," Winterfeldt said, adding that her takeaway from the forum were legislators' messages full of "so much optimism."
And while the three Democrats from District 4 shared similar, sometimes optimistic views — Social Security and ag property tax relief, increase funding for regional public libraries and broadband — they also expressed disappointment and disagreement.
Although all three were fully in support of funding libraries, they were disappointed to see the proposed boost in funding and formula change that were all backed by the state's 12 regional libraries didn't make it into either omnibus bill, but they said there's still time to work something out. The Lake Agassiz Regional Library would get up to $670,00 more in funding, Marquart said, and with a $1.65 billion surplus that would be about $2 million of that, which he said is "not that great of a sacrifice."
In regards to one question on the state's new measures aimed at toughening laws against demonstrators — which was also introduced in North Dakota — Marquart favored the law and said blocking busy airports and roadways was "not a peaceful demonstration." Lien, however, said the measure is a "terrible idea."
"People don't take to the streets when everything is fine and getting good wages. People take to the streets when there's unrest and dissatisfaction," Lien said, referencing the Tea Party demonstrations in 2010, the recent Women's March on Washington and the Black Lives Matter movement. He said the law gives people the impression that legislators "don't want to be bothered with our concerns [and] that's just flat out the wrong approach. We need to bring people in the conversation."
Eken later echoed this need for bringing more constituents to the table, saying that the "deficit isn't monetary." Rather, a lack of engagement from people, despite displeasure many may have when it comes to politics. But the senator said such a turnout at the forum was appreciative and important.
Marquart's mantra this session that he shared with the crowd Wednesday evening was all about "the right balance and right priorities." He said the budget will split three ways: tax cuts, education, and the last third into health care and broadband services.
Lien said one piece of legislation that he is focused on is putting $3 million toward Border-Cities Enterprise Zone Program, which provides funding from St. Paul to five border cities to help with business retention and expansion. The program is included in the tax bill, he said, as well as an extension for a TIF district in Moorhead, also another economic development tool.
There were questions on health care, the F-M diversion and the underpass and whether it will ever be finished, to which Eken said he was "optimistic we will get the underpass this year," as it was in the bonding bill passed last year that ultimately got caught in a "high-stakes game of political chicken."
A recording of the event is available on MCAM cable access or on The League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley website, www.lwvnd.org. For more information, contact Mary C. Tintes at (701) 238-0714.