July 17, 2003 at 10:45 a.m.
But, for the 2002 election Jennings’ House district was re-drawn and he ended up losing re-election in unfamiliar territory with his electorate divided.
Love him or hate him-- his recent observations on this past legislative session are worth consideration.
But first; on that new district boundary he thinks it was good for the district. “Chisago County is almost all in one..it ruined my base, but maybe it’s a good thing to shake things up.”
Jennings said one thing he doesn’t disagree with, that rose to the top of this last session, is “We want less government.”
While he always ran as a DFLer he consistently supported fiscal conservatism and wasn’t one to grow government for government’s sake.
What he finds fault with in St. Paul though, is the way the new crop of lawmakers has been explaining their balancing of the budget.
The mantra was “no new taxes.”
To that, Jennings asks “Who got hurt? Not the voter making $200,000 a year,” he adds.
Jennings says what they did in St. Paul was simple-- no increases to income and property tax at the state level.
He views the session as not very creative and the Republican-conceived re-appropriations as lacking in fairness. Plus, the new crop of lawmakers spent the tobacco endowment. That is money that’s not replaceable, he reminds the listener.
He asks, “Wouldn’t it have been fairer to have raised income taxes about point-zero-one percent instead?”
Millions of new state dollars will be generated through things like big state college tuition hikes; surcharges on speeding tickets; teacher licensure increases; higher fees for divorce court and lawful gambling fee increases. Total new “non-tax” revenues including the tuition hikes is estimated to be $682,965,000.
‘No new taxes’ also means hundreds of senior nutrition program meals will not be served, dial-a-ride transportation systems like Heartland Express will be reduced, Minnesota Care healthcare enrollment was slashed and local government aids were reduced.
Jennings remarked, “The voters hired Pete (Nelson) and Sean (Nienow) to not raise taxes.” A pause...“We’ll see how long it takes people to figure it out.”
Jennings gives it maybe a year before the backlash is felt in St Paul.
Once the new laws are effective (by August 1), impacts will be gradual but palpable.
When the county jail is full with new state prisoners mandated to serve the last six months of their sentences in county jail thereby reducing the state budget-- who will pay for that?
When county, city and township taxes go up to cover loss of programs and personnel how will the voters react?
Jennings cautions the office-holders, “Don’t say you balanced the budget and nobody got smacked.”
On the campaign trail
Backing up to last year-- it was well into fall when Jennings the candidate noticed “the shift.”
He believes that 30 to 35 percent of voters go Democrat and 30 to 35 go Republican. The remainder are the so-called “swing vote.”
In his door-knocking for votes he was hearing from the swing voters that enough government waste could be cut and there’d be no negative effects.
He was hearing the people in his district had never lived through a downturn in the economy and the expanding recession was creating some fear. They wanted rebate checks.
“No new taxes is exactly what they wanted to hear,” Jennings explained.
Now Jennings says he hopes the local governing units don’t react by jacking up local levies to cover up what legislators took away.
“A public official has to say, respectfully, we can’t do that” when someone asks why a service isn’t there any more or a non-emergency law enforcement response takes days.
He believes that the people need to live with this enhanced users-pay state philosophy for a while.
He’s curious to see how far it goes.
Jennings wonders in the future, if only taxpayers who have children of public school age will be paying for public schools?
He asks--Do we go back to when families couldn’t count on there being a nursing home system to care for their elderly?
Thanks for the memories
In spite of all the demands of Minnesota politics Jennings is still missing it.
Over iced tea and lemonade at his rambling house near Fish Lake he said the best part of his job as a representative was being able to make things happen and help people.
“It was nice to have the ability to solve someone’s problem,” Jennings said of his former title “representative.” He told a quick story of a man who’d lost his passport and personal effects and had a major trip planned. Jennings got the constituent a new Minnesota photo I. D. in one-tenth the normal time.
As a guy who served on a city council and the Chisago County Board of Commissioners prior to going to St. Paul, Jennings admits ”I enjoy public policy.”
But, when he lost re-election he quit cold turkey. He doesn’t watch session coverage on Channel 17 or keep in touch much with office-holders.
Instead, he now enjoys being able to attend his youngest child’s extracurricular activities. He also has 60 employees on the roster at his company, East Central Sanitation. The ATVs in the driveway are gassed up and the pool water is warmed. Except for the killer mosquitoes at chez Jennings--life away from the capitol is good.