D15 candidates square off

Keith VanOverbeke (left) is the DFL challenger to incumbent Rep. Chris Swedzinski in House District 15. Photo / Per Peterson

It didn’t take long in the Senate District 15 legislative candidates’ forum last Thursday evening for the elephant to come barging into the room.

That elephant is the $9 billion budget surplus that the Minnesota Legislature left sitting on the table after elected officials falied to come to an agreement during the 2022 session on just what to do with all that money.

“Next year is a budget year, so as far as I am concerned, that $9 billion — it will actually be a little more than that — will be put into the mix of money like it would be in a normal budget year,” said Republican Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls. “We’ll have to decide — certainly we’ll need some tax relief. When you have surpluses for many years in a row, it says that we’re overtaxing our constituents.”

Dahms added during his opening remarks at last week’s 2022 Legislative Candidates Forum at Southwest Minnesota State University that the State must spend that money according to need, not simply a formula where Minnesota residents receive an additional amount of dollars.

• Thursday’s forum was kicked off by House 15A candidates, incumbent Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) and Democratic challenger Keith VanOverbeke, a Tracy native who lives in Marshall. VanOverbeke called the end of the 2022 legislative session regrettable.

“Really what they had worked out had a lot of good material in there,” he said.

Both candidates, along with both Senate candidates, agreed that the current half-percent sales tax in Marshall should be extended for the aquatic center in that city.  They also took on the issue of falling test scores across Minnesota and how the State should address the problem. Swedzinski said part of the problem stems from the COVID-19 year where students are forced to learn from home.

Distance learning did “have an effect on your ability to retain information,” said Swedzinski. “How do you move test scores up? One of the biggest issues we have is the achievement gap. When you look at cities in the metro versus cities in rural Minnesota … look at Minneapolis, they spend three times what we spend in Marshall, and yet they have abysmal results. Is it spending that’s the problem, or is it opportunity?”

VanOverbeke followed that by saying the education system requires adequate funding and that funding needs to be spread equally across the state.

The House candidates also were questioned about abortion. VanOverbeke said although the issue has been pushed to each state, it ultimately it comes down to individual rights.

“Send it back to states, but don’t mettle beyond that,” he said.

Swedzinski said he is 100% pro-life and believes in individual rights.

See more in this week’s paper!