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Brainerd Lakes legislators discuss issues at Madden's

Five state legislators took part in the first in-person "Eggs and Issues" event since 2019

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Local legislators Josh Heintzeman, left, Paul Gazelka, Carrie Ruud, John Poston and Dale Lueck discuss what faces the lakes area at Eggs and Issues on Friday, March 25, 2022.
Dan Determan / Echo Journal

BRAINERD – More than 100 local business owners and voters attended the “Eggs and Issues” legislative breakfast Friday, March 25, to hear area legislators discuss the issues at Madden’s Resort.

Five local legislators – Senators Paul Gazelka and Carrie Ruud, and Representatives John Poston, Dale Lueck and Josh Heintzeman – took to the stage to discuss some of the more pressing issues currently affecting Minnesotans.

The event was hosted by Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and emceed by Chamber President Matt Killian. It was the first time since 2019 that “Eggs and Issues” was an in-person event – having to host it virtually for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the primary issues currently facing the state government is what to do with the $9.3 billion surplus. Gov. Tim Walz has proposed giving $500 checks to taxpayers making up to $164,400 – or $1,000 for couples filing jointly – but the local legislators agreed in part the money should go back to Minnesotans by different means.

“All of us want to give it back, not in one-time money but in permanent tax cuts,” Gazelka said. “(Walz) wants one-time money, which would give $1,000. If we lower that lowest tax rate, everyone gets $1,000 ongoing, every single year.”

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Ruud echoed the sentiment of cutting taxes, but indicated a few things need to be dealt with first.

“I think the tax cuts are important, but we also need to pay our bills,” she said. “For all of these years, we would have a deficit and we would take out bonds. Then when we have a surplus, we never go back and pay them back … We borrowed all of these funds because we have to have a balanced budget – unlike the federal government – and then in a surplus we never go back and pay. This is an unsustainable economy.”

Minnesota lawmakers last year approved a $52 billion two-year budget last year and they don't have to spend the surplus in 2022.

“I think we’ve got to be careful on this bonding thing because it’s not a cookie jar for everybody that thinks they need something,” Lueck said. “It really needs to go to the state-level assets first and we’re talking about the University of Minnesota, the colleges, that whole area.”

Another topic at “Eggs and Issues” was the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which owes more than $1.3 billion to the federal government after the COVID-19 pandemic drove up claims. This piece of legislation has been discussed in conjunction with “hero pay” for frontline workers. All five legislators said they supported hero pay up to a total of $250 million, but cannot get behind the recently proposed total of $1 billion.

“Governor Walz, in this case, deserves some credit. He's negotiating with us. He's trying to get this done,” Heintzeman said. “The agreement back last year was $250 million for frontline workers. We all remember that, but it went to the House where it seems as though the memories of folks there aren't quite as long.”

Recent proposals regarding mandated paid time off were also discussed, with Gazelka’s answer to that question being a concise one: It won’t happen if he can help it.

“In the Senate, we think about that, and what we do is try to incentivize businesses to do it — a carrot rather than a stick. In the House, under the other side’s control, it’s a stick … The senate will not allow that to happen.”

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This was the final Eggs and Issues event for Poston and Lueck, both of whom will retire at the end of the year.

“I appreciate all the support that I've gotten from this room over the years,” Poston said to the crowd. “I'm going to miss being up here next year. This is going to look a little different … and I'll be sitting out there with you.”

Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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