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Saltzman: Continue work on education, tax issues

Kathy Saltzman said she has proven to be an effective legislator who is in tune with Senate District 56.

Elected in 2006, Saltzman has focused on education reform and worked to stake out business-friendly positions, including by pushing tax incentives for new business investment.

Saltzman said legislators should have an honest conversation with their constituents about the challenges of facing a $5.8 billion state budget deficit next year. Anyone claiming the deficit can be erased with spending cuts alone while also wishing to shield schools, health care for the elderly and other popular programs is not being realistic, she said. Those areas consume a large portion of the state budget.

"The math doesn't add up," she said.

Saltzman said lawmakers should produce proposals that balance the budget only with spending cuts, and then gauge public feedback. Regardless of the reaction, the Legislature will trim spending.

"We're going to have to make some deeper cuts than we already have," she said. Saltzman would not offer specific areas where spending should be reduced, but pointed to health and human services costs, which make up roughly 30 percent of the state budget and are growing faster than other areas. She said she also wants to see more state services provided online.

Saltzman said she wants lawmakers to consider an overhaul of the state tax code that would include income taxes, corporate taxes, property taxes and sales taxes. Tax reform should be based on a "revenue-neutral model," she said.

However, she said she is open to considering a sales tax on clothing as a budget-balancing measure if the overall sales tax rate was reduced and some clothing tax exemptions were made.

Ted Lillie, Saltzman's Republican challenger, has criticized her for supporting delaying payments to schools as a budget-balancing maneuver. She said it will be "very difficult" to pay back the $1.8 billion shift in the next budget period and said her opponent has not offered a detailed alternative to that budget decision that was supported by Democrats and Republicans.

Saltzman said if re-elected she would continue to work on education issues. She led efforts to pass a law that strengthens public charter school policy, and wants lawmakers to adopt tougher standards for charter schools that want to use public funds for building purchases.

Saltzman supports a proposal to provide an alternative teacher license for mid-career professionals who want to teach and another proposal to strengthen teacher evaluations. Those positions put her at odds with Education Minnesota, the state teachers union. The union traditionally endorses Democrats, but Saltzman did not get the union endorsement this year.

In an unusual twist, Saltzman and Lillie were endorsed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's political committee this year.

Saltzman said lawmakers should continue exploring ways to make Minnesota competitive for business growth. She said the state had good business success in past years but as a result grew "complacent."

The state needs a strategic economic development plan to promote private-sector job growth, including in high-technology fields, she said.