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District 11A candidates mix it up in TV forum

Minnesota House District 11A candidates answered questions about the Appleton prison, job creation in rural areas, taxes and education during an hour-long Pioneer Public TV candidate forum Thursday night.

Dave Holman of the Independence Party, DFLer Bennett Smith and Republican incumbent Torrey Westrom appeared on a live broadcast of PPTV's "Meet the Candidates" series. Morris attorney Amy Doll-Wohlers moderated the forum.

Westrom reiterated a theme that the Legislature's DFL leaders hamper any true reforms that would allow increases in education and health care funding.

Smith said Gov. Tim Pawlenty's intractable governing style -- "If it's not his idea he won't support it and there's no compromising with him," Smith said -- for many of the problems facing the state.

Holman split the middle.

"We're getting nowhere, politically, the way things are going with either party," he said.

Prairie Correctional Facility

Westrom believes the state could save money and put workers back on the job at the closed facility if DFL leaders wouldn't shut down bills that could get state prisoners into the privately owned prison.

Smith said intervening in private business isn't the responsibility of government and the same holds true in Appleton. He equated it to a bailout.

"It's sad to me that we lost those jobs but hopefully they will come back," Smith said.

Holman said he isn't sure what lawmakers could do immediately to rectify the Appleton prison situation but that he'd work to get people who lost their jobs back to work.

In terms of rural jobs, Westrom said tax incentives like those available through the JOBZ program, and renewable energy and streamlined permitting would spark job creation.

Smith said Minnesotans are known as "knowledge leaders" and that an investment in education leads to improvements in business. Holman said the district's economy hasn't been hit as hard as in other areas but he worried about "too many tax breaks and not enough taxes coming in."

In terms of the deficit -- predicted to be about $5.8 million -- and taxes, Westrom again stated that there were "oodles" of reforms possible before the state needed to consider tax increases.

Smith said the deficit required cuts and revenue increases, and even then a "creative godsend" might be needed to cut into the large deficit. He added that fair taxation, especially for upper-income earners, was imperative.

"It's not a question if taxes need to be raised," Smith said. "Taxes need to be made fair."

Holman said the deficit is an imposing problem for anyone.

"Whichever of us gets elected is going to have a tremendous challenge," Holman said.

All said education funding needed to be equalized across the state so rural areas don't fall behind. Westrom said school boards should be able to vote to reject any state mandate that doesn't come with funding. Smith said the state needs to commit to a complete restructuring of funding formulas, "not just shifting money."