39B House hopefuls make pitches to large audience
House District 39B candidates Republican Rep. Kathy Lohmer and her Democratic challenger, teacher and businessman Tom DeGree, got a little feisty during what might have been their final pitches to a large audience Tuesday at Stillwater City Hall.
The pair addressed a variety of questions spanning topics from education, taxes, and the scope of government during the Stillwater Gazette-sponsored forum.
Regarding taxes, Lohmer and DeGree were asked if there were times that they felt they would consider raising taxes and when those would be. They were also asked if there were areas they would like to see tax reductions and/or less regulation.
DeGree said he didn’t believe the ‘ no new taxes’stance taken by Lohmer in this race is a good option, citing an increase in property taxes.
“I think we need to look at the tax system closely. We need to look at all the revenues and we need to see what needs to be cut or reduced as well as look at it as a whole clean slate,” DeGree said. “We need to look at other states, see what’s worked for them and also focus on sales, income and property tax.”
“I would like to talk about this property tax situation,” Lohmer replied, “This is not something the state imposes on people. That is something that local government does and it was popular with other cities … property tax increases were not imposed by the state.”
“But there is a ripple effect,” DeGree countered. “The state mandates things on the cities and this comes at a cost. If you require something of the cities that they need to carry out these services they have to raise taxes to provide these services too.”
“I do agree with you that we have to look at the mandate and we need to make sure that when we mandate something that there is money available,” Lohmer said.
On raising taxes, Lohmer said that she did not want to do that.
“Currently we take in $60 billion per biennium and we need to look at that spending and see how we can spend it more efficiently,” she said. “We need to make sure that we continue to create jobs and a strong economy and with these tough economic times I don’t think it’s best to raise taxes on anybody.”
DeGree agreed with Lohmer that money needed to be used wisely, but said taxes need to be looked at more closely.
“Because of what happened with the state, property taxes have doubled in the last two years, and it’s caused a ripple effect across the board. Schools are under-funded, and police and fire departments have endorsed me because we can’t work with skeleton crews. As a business owner I can’t just tell people to pay more when they come to me but we also need to make sure that people do have disposable income to benefit businesses as well.”
Moderator Marguerite Rheinberger moved the conversation on to different topics that included the cost of education. With the costs of student education in public K-12 schools and public universities skyrocketing the candidates were asked solutions would keep education costs under control.
“Look at our budget. Funding for K-12 education is nearly one-third of it, and we’ve tried to raise more money because we don’t want to increase class sizes. I’m about 58 years old and as long as I can remember, schools have been asking for more money to decrease their class sizes, but smaller never seems to happen and my question is when does that money get to the students and classrooms?” Lohmer said.
“When you look at schools, we are running on a pretty slim budget. I have 33 kids in my classroom.” DeGree, a fourth-grade teacher said. “We have one administrator and one assistant principal for 70 staff members. As for where that money is going, I wish I had an answer for you, though it was FDR who said that the last place we should economize is in our education and schools are in a shortfall.”
DeGree repeatedly referred to the $2.2 billion that the state borrowed from schools to balance the budget throughout the forum.
When asked about the two constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot, DeGree said he did not believe that a simple majority was the right way to decide the amendments and brought the conversation back to the budget.
“Our constitution has only been amended 100 times and it was amended seven times last year. Our constitution needs to have 60 percent support to be put on the ballot and we need to pass on a budget, and not an amendment. We need to work together. Our current budget was vetoed and then passed without a single Democrat vote within Congress. People need to work together on issues that are this important,” DeGree said.
“I did a survey in my district and a lot of people said voter integrity was very important to people. So I decided to get the support to put it on the ballot and let the people of Minnesota decide,” Lohmer said. “I agreed that we needed tighter reins on voter integrity and prove that every vote is counted and verified. Some of the decisions we make are things that 201 people should not decide on and with the marriage amendment people have an opportunity to weigh in.”
“I talked to 20,000 people when I was door-knocking and those were not the main concerns I heard,” DeGree said. “I heard that the issues were jobs, the economy, the future for our children and the environment. Not one person said those amendments were an issue and I’d say that’s a pretty good survey.”
If the Voter ID amendment passes, DeGree and Lohmer were asked how the legislature would set up a voter ID system and if the costs would be paid by the state or passed to the counties.
“When, and if, we pass the constitutional amendment to show a photo ID, we haven’t exactly enacted it, after the vote is taken I’m not sure how payment will take place. But I do know that for people who can’t afford an ID, the state will pay for that,” Lohmer said.
When asked what the candidates disagreed with their party on, Lohmer said she became interested in the Republican party because she is pro-life. She added there are times she disagrees with her party but she believes in her party’s philosophy.
DeGree said that as a small-business owner he understood the need for a more limited government and that he will use money from the taxpayers wisely.
To read more about other issues discussed by Lohmer and DeGree at an earlier forum at Boutwells Landing this month click here.