As former director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, Independence Party lieutenant governor candidate Jim Mulder is well aware of the challenges local governments face because of state aid cuts.


As former director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, Independence Party lieutenant governor candidate Jim Mulder is well aware of the challenges local governments face because of state aid cuts.

Mulder was in Montevideo Thursday last week at Country Kitchen during a trip around western Minnesota to meet with community leaders to talk about those challenges and to discuss ways to revitalize communities throughout Minne­sota.
Prefacing the discussion by saying he and running mate Tom Horner believe the solutions to the state budget woes are to be found in the middle of the road.

Mulder said he believed the time has come to make hard decisions in St. Paul, that there has been too much arguing over right and wrong. He singled out the caucus system as having damaged the legislative system by cutting moderate legislators out of the process.

“My job will be to bring those people back into the process,” he told those present. “I’m more and more convinced how critically important this election will be, particularly for rural Minnesota.”

Those present were county commissioner Jim Dahlvang, county engineer Steve Kubista, Family Services director Betty Christensen, Gail Jerve from Prairie Five Community Action Council, and Angie Siegfried from the Montevideo Area Chamber of Commerce.

The state needs a stable budget, a budget that works, and a budget that delivers services, said Mulder. “We can’t spend our way out, and we can’t just cut our way out,” he said.

Mulder said additional cuts to the state budget, including local government aid and especially those to health and human services would affect mainly older people and rural Minnesota in particular.

He proposed creating a “buffet table or menu-driven system” which would offer multiple service options but which would require individuals receiving those services to make a commitment as well. “We need to move from an input-based system to an output-based system.”

Mulder stressed allowing innovation at the local level, because that is where the services are delivered. Counties deliver 120 different mandated services.

Christensen pointed out that she feels the state has gotten away from partnering with local service providers and will not listen. “That’s been really frustrating,” she said. “No one is looking at the big picture.”

She specifically cited a move by the state not to pay volunteer drivers 50 cents a mile if they have to return from a destination without a passenger. Not only will this discourage volunteer drivers taking people out of town, but it will cost more in the long run, according to Chris­tensen. The state would rather go to a taxi service and pay $1.40 per mile.

“You’re not gaining anything,” she said.

Mulder agreed, saying operational solutions should be left to the local level. He also urged collaboration among many local entities, including schools, counties, cities and businesses, to seek solutions.

When asked about repaying delayed school aid, Mul­der said his and Horner’s plan is to schedule repayment over the next six to eight years. The state needs to pay interest incurred by school districts forced to borrow funds because of the unallotments, he added.

“Not to do so is immoral,” said Mulder.

The school aid formula needs to be simplified, as well. The Minnesota formula is 33 pages long compared to South Dakota’s, which takes up one page, according to Mulder.

When asked about Horner’s proposal to extend the state sales tax to clothing and services, Mulder said the tax rate would be reduced to 5.5 percent, to lessen its impact.

“The sales tax is regressive, but it’s fair,” he said, noting again the need for balance. “We have to have a balanced system.”

The goal is for Minnesota to be in a better position four years from now.

“If we don’t recognize these challenges and address them in a responsible manner, it will push many of our cities, counties, and schools to the edge of survival,” Mulder said.