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Critics flood GOP reform meeting at Woodbury City Hall

Lake Elmo resident Mark Deziel raised his voice in opposition to GOP ideas Thursday during a meeting at Woodbury City Hall. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker1 / 2
House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, listens to an audience member speak Thursday during a reform-based meeting at Woodbury City Hall. Joining him were Reps. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, and Kathy Lohmer, R-Lake Elmo. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker2 / 2

A Republican-led forum on reform issues drew numerous critics of GOP policy Thursday at a Woodbury City Hall meeting that became surprisingly partisan for organizers.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, one of several lawmakers who led the meeting, said it was the first time the so-called "Reform 2.0" sessions had been overtaken by politics.

"The politics is counter-productive," Dean, R-Dellwood, said after the meeting. "It's a waste of time."

He said he expected a more policy-driven discussion, where citizens could provide input for the legislative process. Instead, the Republicans received an earful of opposition to their call for lower taxes - especially on businesses.

"That's not why we're here," Dean said. "We're here for boring, geeky ideas."

Other GOP lawmakers in attendance included Sen. Ted Lillie, of Lake Elmo, and Reps. Andrea Kieffer, of Woodbury, Kathy Lohmer, of Lake Elmo and Denny McNamara of Hastings.

Kieffer presented a long list of issues the lawmakers hoped to tackle during the one-hour and 30-minute meeting including taxes, state mandates and government services.

It didn't take long for the discussion to become heated. The first topic - business taxes - spurred pointed remarks from audience members.

Lake Elmo resident Mark Deziel laid into Dean and others, calling the meeting "ridiculously biased."

Deziel, who said he is a tax preparer, rejected the notion that Minnesota's income tax rate is higher than Wisconsin's.

"Don't believe the myth," he said.

At one point, Dean asked the man to leave as his comments went on and grew louder.

But Deziel wasn't the only one to raise his voice in opposition. Others in the group spoke out against lawmakers' claims that lower business taxes would result in job creation.

At one point, critics cried out, "That's a lie," after Kieffer said higher taxes on the wealthy would drive those residents from Minnesota.

State Democratic-Farmer-Labor Chairman Ken Martin also weighed in on the meeting in a news release.

"The hypocrisy of their demand for reform and the current budget deal is not fair to the people of the state," Martin said. "By choosing to balance our state's budget on the backs of our children, cutting LGA and eliminating the Market Value Homestead Tax Credit, Republicans chose to hurt kids and drive up property taxes on families across the state instead of asking the richest to pay just a little bit more."

Despite the opposition, some audience members spoke out in support of tax reform.

That included Jack Lanners, Woodbury resident and president of MGM Wine and Spirits. He called for a simplification of Minnesota taxes and more competitive rates with neighboring Wisconsin.

"We get the feeling that Minnesota just doesn't like business," Lanner said.

Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley also sounded off during the meeting when the topic of regulatory reform came up. He asked lawmakers to consider having the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency loosen its grip on regulations that require the city to survey more than 500 ponds.

Gridley said the survey will result in a cost of more than $700,000 to Woodbury taxpayers.

McNamara, chairman of a House environment committee, fielded Gridley's concerns, which also included sediment runoff mandates.

McNamara said the agency and the state should be mindful of tax impact.

"We're supposed to be flexible," McNamara said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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