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Erik Burgess, Published October 01 2012

Minn. congressional candidates agree Moorhead needs state aid

MOORHEAD – Party lines were crossed amicably Monday night as state Senate and House candidates, Republican and Democrat alike, agreed that Moorhead requires distinct, well-funded state aid to grow and compete on the North Dakota border.

The four local candidates in the Nov. 6 Minnesota election took part in a public forum here at City Hall, with questions focused on the state and local economy.

All four candidates agreed decreasing state funds have negatively affected Moorhead and Greater Minnesota, especially when it comes to rising property taxes.

“Greater Minnesota has some challenges that the metro doesn’t face,” said state Senate candidate Phil Hansen, of Detroit Lakes.

His opponent on the Senate ballot, Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, argued that rural Minnesota has been hit harder by the state budget deficits.

“Over the last several years (the state’s metropolitan cities) have been largely shielded from the pain created in the budget deficits,” Eken said.

Democrat Ben Lien, running for State House in District 4A, said if elected he would meet with legislators from other western border cities to work on better voicing their specific needs to the Legislature.

“It’s getting to a crisis level where people in businesses are leaving Minnesota for North Dakota,” he said.

His Republican opponent, Travis Reimche, said he feels Moorhead is in a good place, citing the near completion of the city’s flood protection system, but if elected he would see that local government aid continues to come to Moorhead to help reduce the local tax burden on residents.

All candidates agreed that local government aid – state funding distributed to cities to help keep property taxes lower – is critical to border cities. Local government aid has seen a decrease since 2002.

The candidates did differ on how else to reduce property taxes, which Eken said are eight times higher in rural cities.

“It has been a decidedly anti-rural direction we’ve been moving in,” he said of the Legislature.

The Republican candidates said the state should move beyond the homestead tax credit, which they argued was only fully funded once in the past 10 years.

Before it was eliminated last year, the homestead tax credit reduced the general property tax for certain property that was occupied as a person’s primary place of residence.

Hansen said the state’s homeowner property tax refund would provide direct reimbursement to homeowners and is the best way to reduce local taxes.

But his Democratic counterparts argued that specific program has largely funded cities in metropolitan counties while the eliminated homestead tax credit helped rural Minnesota.

“It was very critical to holding down our property taxes,” Eken said.

Lien agreed with Eken that the homestead tax credit should be reinstated.

Reimche said regardless of the issue, bipartisanship is critical in keeping Greater Minnesota well-funded.

“It shouldn’t be about Republican or Democrat anymore,” he said. “It should be about rural Minnesota and Minnesota as a whole.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518