by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political editor
With the DFL party in control this session, state government is full speed ahead and “expanding with no guard rails,” said freshman Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls.
Kresha represents District 9B, which includes most of Morrison County.
“It’s OK to slow things down a bit,” Kresha said when looking at the fast track legislators are currently negotiating. “You just can’t soak in all the information” you receive, he said. “You have to make decisions about finite resources but to take in everyone’s arguments and to take in all the information, it is just impossible,” Kresha explained.
He said legislators must condense things and get to the point with their constituents and groups.
Kresha explains how he approaches his meeting with constituents and other groups. “I ask them to give me their 30-second elevator pitch so I can get it in my head and file it way. What I really want is a contact because when a bill comes up, I can then contact the individual or group and say, ‘Let’s have a conversation again.’”
Kresha, the owner and chief executive officer of an economic development marketing company, said the pace at the Legislature is overwhelming.
“I can see why it takes you a couple of terms to really understand the flow of the budget, to understand exactly how money is appropriated, and just understanding which committee your bill is going to touch is daunting.”
In addition to his legislative duties and running a business, Kresha has a wife Wendy and five children, ages kindergarten to a senior in high school. He said he tries to get back for sporting events and school events and stay connected with his family. His company works nationally with small cities and counties, trying to make them competitive.
“What I find is you need a lot of good people at home,” Kresha said. He said his business partner and employees have picked up the ball and run with it, as have his children and wife at home.
Kresha is adamant about focusing on the budget and worrying about other issues, like bonding, at another time, he said.
“Let’s deal with the budget, with business-to-business taxes, and let’s make sure we build our district strong,” he said.
A couple of bonding items in his area have been mentioned: funding the Camp Ripley Trail and providing funds for expansion at the Pine Grove Zoo. Kresha said he is a big supporter of the veterans trail and believes the Pine Grove Zoo is “a great growing resource and fantastic tourist stop” and he supports both projects.
Kresha cautions, however, that he does not want to make bonding items into political footballs.
“I am not going to put my district at risk of being part of political games, so first and foremost, let’s deal with the fact that we need to get some jobs in my area and let’s deal with the fact that education is not equal in my district.”
Kresha said he does not believe any of his cohorts campaigned on the idea of an expanded, faster government to get it all done.
“Let’s be thoughtful and let’s run a lean form of government, then let’s talk about investment,” he said.
Gov. Dayton’s attempt to lower the state sales tax to 5.5 percent and look for a way to broaden it has “some merit” to it, Kresha said.
Kresha said he blames Dayton, however, for playing a shell game in trying to find $1.4 billion in a property tax shift to enable state government to send out checks “to make people happy, but then we are going to get it on the other side.” Kresha said the shortfall and needs should be identified and then the appropriate revenue should be raised.
“Let’s not go crazy,” Kresha cautioned. “I think he (the governor) has overreached with the business-to-business tax.”
In his area alone, Kresha said a large number of companies exist that have contracted workers.
“We’re putting a huge burden on them that they have never seen before,” Kresha said. He explained that a small company doing $300,000 in business a year and utilizing marketing, design, printing and advertising immediately has $15,000 in taxes directed at them.
A home-based worker competing across the country who may be one or two percentage points higher than a competitor can’t pass on the extra costs but has to eat them.
Kresha strongly supports tax reform and said formulas are becoming more complicated.
“We are setting ourselves up for future legislative sessions to tweak things to help our districts,” Kresha said. He said the state has to look at the property tax formula, one of the most complicated in the state.
Kresha has introduced legislation that looks at a late fee structure. The legislation speaks to penalties being imposed on taxpayers who are thrown into the mercy of the situation.
“We make it harder for the taxpayers to understand how they can manage their property taxes and how they manage their every day expenses. Then, we charge lawyer fees to figure it all out,” Kresha said.
Legislation on gun violence has been dominating much of the legislators’ time early this session. Kresha said many of his constituents question why this is.
“I haven’t gone to just the local hunters and local sports people, I have talked to local gun dealers, to my schools and to the sheriff” about this issue, Kresha said. He says Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel urged Kresha not to create knee-jerk legislation. He said schools have given him the same message. “I don’t think there is a whole lot of merit to the legislation we have proposed right now,” Kresha said.
As a message to his constituents, Kresha said “every minute we spend on guns, every minute we spend on marriage equality and every minute we spend on all of these issues that are not germane to the budget, that’s less time we have to fix the health exchange and less time we have to put some of these bonding proposals in place for next session.”
Kresha said he believes legislators are doing themselves and their constituents a disservice by not hashing out and having thoughtful conversations about the budget and jobs.
Early last week, Kresha officially introduced HF933, a bill with wide bipartisan support and a number of DFL co-sponsors that would promote existing tax credits to businesses in Greater Minnesota. These angel tax credits were designed to boost businesses in all of Minnesota, not just the seven-county Metro area, Kresha said.
“Greater awareness of the tax credits available to eligible small businesses means more jobs for Greater Minnesota,” Kresha detailed.
Kresha has also signed on to a bill that helps school districts that are close to statutory operating debt. These districts, by this legislation, would receive 90 percent of their funding right away. He is also looking at a number of legislative proposals that will equalize some of the formula.
“I make no bones about it: I am not a metro legislator but an outstate legislator,” looking out for the interests of Greater Minnesota, Kresha said in explaining some of this recent legislation proposals.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.