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Howe: State has a spending problem

Name: John Howe

Age: 47

Residence: Red Wing

Family: wife Lisa (44); sons Jack (14) and David (11); daughter Katelyn (5)

Public involvement (limited to five): Mayor of Red Wing, Goodhue County Health and Human Services Board, Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission, University of Minnesota Tourism Center Advisory Board, Clean Water Council

Education: B.A. in criminal justice, St. Cloud State University (practicum left to earn ,aster's degree)

Work: Farm laborer, corrections officer and caseworker, Sears district manager, Sears dealer store owner, federal firefighter, Wells Fargo senior products consultant,

Legislators once again will look to fill a gaping budget hole, and, if elected, you'll be part of that debate. To what degree do taxes figure into your plans for a budget fix?

The problem with Minnesota's budget is not a tax problem. It's a spending problem. When people read about a projected $6 billion deficit, they might not realize that tax revenues are actually expected to go up over the next biennium, from about $30.5 billion in 2010-11 to about $32.9 billion in 2012-2013. The projected deficit is caused by anticipated increases in spending, not because of a shortage of tax revenue. I believe we can balance the budget, fund education and provide for the ongoing functions of state government without tax increases.

The Vikings are nearing the end of their lease at the Metrodome and efforts to build a new stadium continue to fall flat. Would you be willing to commit millions in public dollars to keep the Vikings in Minnesota?

Professional sports play an important role in our overall quality of life, but I don't believe it's the state government's duty to provide the Vikings a stadium. If, however, a local unit of government - a city or county - wants to take the lead on the project (like Hennepin County did for the Twins stadium) and the Vikings and NFL make a substantial contribution to fund the project, then I believe the state could assist with infrastructure improvement or other minor assistance to make a new stadium possible. I would oppose a statewide tax increase for a new stadium.

Many Minnesota policymakers say education funding is a sacred cow that should be held harmless, despite ongoing budget crises. Do you agree, or do you think education should share in more of the pain?

I was educated in a small rural school, and my children attend public elementary, middle and high schools, so I understand the importance of, and strongly support, public education. Ensuring a strong system of public education is a constitutional requirement and among the most serious obligations of the Legislature. This biennium, Minnesota K-12 schools will receive about $13.3 billion in state general fund aid. (That's about $8,000 per pupil, well above the national average.) While I believe we may be able to maintain that level of funding, a bigger issue is the unfair funding formula that shortchanges rural schools.

Minnesota's gubernatorial candidates now agree that Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Job Opportunity Building Zones was an economic development bust. What do you propose to spur economic development in the state's rural areas?

Minnesota has high business taxes and significant incentive programs. Our corporate tax rate of 9.8 percent is the third highest in the nation. If we would reduce spending on incentive programs, we could reduce our tax rate to 3.5 percent (capturing the same revenue) and become among the most competitive states in the country. When it comes to rural economic development, focusing on retention is a far better strategy than trying to "relocate" other businesses. Making Minnesota more business-friendly through lower taxes, less regulation, a well-educated workforce and better overall business climate is a strong rural economic development strategy.

The district is losing a powerful transportation advocate in Sen. Steve Murphy. What transportation projects would you put in line for taxpayer dollars?

Unfortunately, our transportation district has the highest percentage of poor quality roads in the state. My top priority will be the extension of a four-lane road out to Highway 52; this will promote business development along our corridor. Plus it will enhance Red Wing's status as a regional trade center. I'll also advocate for improvements to Highway 57 from Wanamingo, Cannon Falls interchange improvements (one of the five most unsafe intersections in southeastern Minnesota) and Highway 60 between Zumbrota and Kenyon. The upcoming replacement of the Eisenhower Bridge is also an important priority.