The new House District 29B, which includes Monticello, Buffalo, Maple Lake and surrounding townships, features Buffalo DFL candidate Barrett A. Chrissis squaring off against Buffalo Republican Marion O’Neill and Independence Party member Eugene Newcombe of Monticello.
The Monticello Times asked candidates to submit biographies and answer these questions:
1) If elected, how would you ease the $1.1 billion deficit that’s projected during the state’s next budget cycle?
2) Explain your position on school funding and reinstating the state-mandated education property tax levy;
3) If elected or re-elected, what will be your No. 1 priority or issue during the 2013 Legislative session?
Chrissis: Spouse; Kristi, daughters; Sierra (11), Raya, (3). My undergraduate studies include an A.A. degree in law enforcement, and I have been pursuing a BA in business management. I am a 24-year police detective, employed with the city of Buffalo, and a resident of the district for 11 years. Civic organizations and special interests include: Buffalo Food Shelf, Lions Club, Rivers of Hope Domestic Abuse Advocacy Center of Wright and Sherburne Counties, Special Olympics MN. Contact info: www.barrettchrissis.com.
O’Neill: Husband, Thomas O’Neill, son – James O’Neill (18), daughter – Olivia O’Neill (15).Education: master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis in marriage and family counseling from Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA; Bachelors of Science in Applied Psychology with a minor in Chemical Dependency from Bemidji State University. Occupation: Owner, Irish Setters Tile & Glass Block, LLC and Minnesota State Senate Staff. Years in District: 11; Community/Civic Involvement: Wright County Jail – Up With Worship volunteer for the 10 years and still currently serving; Buffalo Food Shelf – served as Board Vice-Chair, Interim-Treasurer, and eventually as a staff accountant – total years of service was 7; AWANA – T & T Director and Leader for a total of 6 years. Contact info: www.MarionOneill.com.
Newcombe: I am currently retired and live in Monticello with my wife Fenella and son Abraham: we attend St. Henry Church. My professional background is in management and I have a master’s degree in management from Hamline University. I served 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Army: receiving primary leadership training at the elite U.S Seventh Army NCO Academy and advance leadership training at the U.S. Army Signal Center. Contact info: www.eugenenewcombe.com
Chrissis: The answer to this question and to each of the next two questions, starts and stops with legislators (all of them) making a decision to start examining problems from an interest-based perspective, as opposed to defiantly taking extreme positions on the issues facing us. When a person or a group “draws a line in the sand” and refuses to look for opportunities for mutual gain, which are based on the true interests of our state and our district, the result is inefficiency, and laws and reforms that may perhaps serve some people’s interests, but which are not necessarily in the best interest of our citizens and our state.
Everyone seems to agree that the government has a responsibility to provide certain core services, and that we should continue that practice. In the interest of fiscal responsibility, however, we must examine our core services and look for ways to improve efficiency, and to save money, without damaging their functional purpose.
Additionally, we need to take a hard look at spending projects that do not relate to these core services and genuinely assess whether the state can afford to fund those initiatives. Sometimes good projects should not be funded by the state, even when there is a sentiment that suggests otherwise. Tough economic times call for tough choices, and the legislature needs to make those decisions and balance the state’s checkbook.
O’Neill: The $1.1 billion projected deficit is based on the projected growth in spending to $36.8 billion, which is an increase of $3 billion or 9 percent. Minnesota Management and Budget’s forecast for the upcoming biennium shows a $2 billion, 6 percent increase in state revenues. See Page 20 of the February 2012 announcement showing 2012-13 projected revenue of $33.8 billion (http://www.mmb.state.mn.us/doc/fu/11/summary-nov11.pdf), and Page 9 showing 2014-15 projected revenue of $35.8 billion (http://www.mmb.state. mn.us/doc/fu/12/summary-feb12.pdf). So as we head into our next budget with flush reserves and $2 billion of new money, I am confident we can fund our priorities and make significant progress toward paying back the school shift. Also I will push for the small business tax relief passed last year by the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Dayton. I strongly believe we can live within our means at $36 billion.
Newcombe: The core problem with our legislature is “short sightedness.” Our government rarely plans for the future; everything is about today and the heck with tomorrow. The answer to solving any deficit is to plan not to have one and if one should occur have a mechanism in place to automatically deal with it. A deficit is expected because there is an 8 percent spending increase projected. Limiting the increase to 4 percent will eliminate the deficit; simple, problem solved. Government needs to limit spending to necessities, spend smart, and live within its means. To control future spending implement the following steps: 1) limit budget increases to inflation and population growth. 2) Any spending outside of step 1 must be approved by a 3/5 majority legislative vote. 3) In the advent of a deficit automatic across-the-board cuts take place. 4) fast-track any identified cost saving measures. Some cost saving measures I’ve identified: 1) require the state to contract with counties to utilize idle jail space, at a rate favorable to counties, to house prisoners; thus, saving the state 10’s of millions of dollars annually and shifting dollars into counties. 2) Reform tax system to account for future issues such as loss of tax base due to retirements. 3) Institute a minimum tax for people with income who now pay little or nothing to ensure everyone helps pay our state’s expenses. 4) Rescind the prevailing wage policy to save the state millions of dollars annually.
Chrissis: In my last response I mentioned core services that the government should provide; education is certainly one of them. Each child in the state of Minnesota is entitled to a quality education that, at a minimum, meets certain standards for outcomes and student achievement. Unfortunately, recent shifts in funding have created an imbalance in reference to equal opportunities for students. The state mandated general education property tax was repealed in 2001 and this action shifted the funding burden to the local school districts. Additionally, last session, the legislature chose to play a shell game with the funding allocated to schools, borrowing billions and further burdening school districts and taxpayers, without making any accommodation for the additional costs. It is a fair statement to make that the funding mechanisms for our school systems are highly complex. It is also fair to say that legislative actions have resulted in higher local taxes, and incongruences between communities and school districts, regarding educational opportunities. I will make it a priority to look for opportunities to restore fairness to our state’s educational funding, and to improve educational quality and equality for all students.
O’Neill: I am a very strong advocate of local control. I believe that the local school boards, who have been elected by the citizens of the school district, are the experts in what are the best practices and priorities for their districts. Therefore, I believe that local levies are something that needs to be decided at the local level. While I strongly support prioritizing education funding so that our children will have the education to prepare them for the 21st century workforce, I don’t think the state should be mandating local property taxes. Additionally, the disparity between Minneapolis and St. Paul per pupil 2013 funding, $13,177, versus $9,647 per pupil in Monticello or $8,581 per pupil in Buffalo is disappointing and is something I look forward to trying to change if elected. I would also like to review and work to roll back burdensome State mandates placed on our already stretched teachers, staff and administrators over and above the Federal mandates. I have talked to special education teachers who spend a day and a half per week just on paperwork alone. The priority must be on connecting with students not on filling out hundreds of pages of documentation.
Newcombe: All funding for schools should come directly from the state and if a property tax is to be part of that funding then a state-mandated education property tax levy should be used; in other words, the state should be the only funding source for schools. Currently school funding is treated as discretionary. The schools are owed $2.4 billion, which has forced schools to borrow funds to educate our children. I’ll initiate a bill that requires funds due the schools be sent without exception. The Minnesota constitution states the legislature has a duty “to establish a general and uniform system of public schools” that are “thorough and efficient.” Unfortunately there is no mechanism in place to determine if the legislature’s duty is being fulfilled. There is no data collected, no measurements in place, or standards set. We spend $17 billion on education, which is half of all Minnesota’s revenue without knowing exactly how it is spent. It is impossible to make informed decisions about our education system when we don’t know what’s going on within the system. It is my intention to require the state to establish a school’s evaluation system to ensure effective management of the education system. We must determine and if necessary take steps to ensure our schools are uniform, thorough, and efficient. Applying basic management principles to the education system will save millions to billions of dollars. The problem with our education system is at the legislative level and not with teachers, administrators, or school boards.
Chrissis: Politicians are quick to point out the priorities of their platform, but pointing these out without addressing and resolving the dysfunction that has permeated our legislative process is nothing more than a pipe dream. In a 1961 speech to the Canadian parliament, President John F. Kennedy said in part, “What unites us is far greater than what divides us.” We are people, not a party.
At the end of the day we are all neighbors, as President Kennedy said in that same speech. Unfortunately, some have become so captivated by the views of certain groups that they have forgotten the purpose of the legislature. The job of the legislature is to represent the will of our citizenry, not to cling to a set of ideas or ideals that are so far to one side or the other that consensus is out of the question. We must by choice, engage in the process of finding solutions, rather than taking oppositional positions. There are issues that I want to prioritize (education, jobs), but to get this work done, a fundamental shift toward collaboration must occur first. I believe that I have the ability to build consensus and to bring those with opposing views together in the spirit of seeking resolution. This will mean setting aside the partisanship that has restricted our state from moving forward on so many important issues. I am committed to this effort, and I hope to show that statesmanship, though once thought lost, has been restored to governance.
O’Neill: My No. 1 priority will be to work to return Minnesota to a business friendly State. According to the Tax Foundation’s 2013 edition of the State Business Tax Climate Index (http://taxfoundation .org/article/2013-state-business-tax-climate-index), Minnesota once again ranks near the bottom, 45th of 50. This rank is primarily due to Minnesota’s high corporate and individual income tax rates. Only New York, New Jersey, California, Vermont, and Rhode Island are ranked worse. Governor Dayton has made it clear that he will revive his massive tax hike proposal during the next legislative session. If the DFL gain control in the House and Senate, Dayton will get his tax increases and Minnesota will soon rank even lower. I have been endorsed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fund, Hospitality Minnesota and Choices in Health Care because I am committed to the businesses that fuel our economy and provide jobs to the good hard-working citizens of our state. If our businesses leave our state, they take with them our jobs and the tax revenue to fund our schools and nursing homes, build our highways, and provide police and fire protection. A healthy economy starts with a healthy business climate and I look forward to working hard to make the changes necessary to move Minnesota in the right direction.
Newcombe: Once elected I will champion a bill to protect women and children from known rapists; this bill will make rape a life sentence. Once enacted there will be multiple benefits. Rapists will receive a sentence equal to their crime.
There will be no more repeat offender problem and the civil commitment policy will end.
Currently, rapists who are too dangerous to release are committed to a treatment program at a cost of $120,000 per offender annually, which is 3.5 times the cost of prison. This program currently costs 70 million dollars a year and the offender population is expected to double over the next 10 years (costs will likely triple). Ending this program will save as much as 1 billion dollars over 10 years. We need to end court challenges to the civil commitment policy. Civil commitment is used to incarcerate offenders after they have completed their prison terms; thus, offenders are held because they may commit a crime in the future.
Eventually the commitment policy will be declared unconstitutional. The core issue is that we have dangerous people we do not want to release and the best method to solving this problem is to use the criminal code to deal with criminals. One simple change in the law protects women and children from known rapists, drops the recidivism rate for rapists to zero, saves the state big money, and ends an unconstitutional program. Protecting citizens is the highest duty of government and this is the first step of many I will champion.