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Senate District 54 profile: DFLer Katie Sieben

Katie Sieben said jobs and the economy are concerns among voters she's encountered while campaigning, but there is a louder message.

Sieben, a DFL senator seeking re-election in District 54, she is hearing "a lot more about how people want us to get along with the other side."

Despite sharp partisan divisions on high-profile issues, Sieben said she has been successful in working with Republicans on other topics in recent years, from a statewide ban on synthetic marijuana to absentee ballot election reforms recommended after the 2008 U.S. Senate recount.

Sieben said she believes she has done a "fairly decent" job of working with Republicans, but said the election of more conservative lawmakers in 2010 made compromise more challenging and contributed to the state government shutdown in 2011. She said that shutdown and frustration over national politics seem to be fueling voters' pleas for more compromise.

"Generally people seem happy with the issues I've been working on and recognize it's been a difficult period," she said.

Sieben was elected to the Senate in 2006, and again in 2010, after serving in the House four years. She is seeking a four-year term Nov. 6.

The state has an "important role" in helping to ensure the Minnesota business climate is strong, she said. That includes spending money on public infrastructure and state programs that help businesses. Also, it is critical to have a well-educated workforce, she said.

One effort lacking in state government, Sieben said, is the ability to pair skills needed by employers with what is offered in technical colleges, schools and universities. That even involves the K-12 level, she said, where more can be done to make students aware of what skills are needed in the workforce.

State-funded public works projects also can help the economy, particularly if they support "spin off" growth in private businesses, she said. She cited a proposed transit line in the southwest Twin Cities and a University of Minnesota biomedical initiative in Rochester.

Sieben supports expanding the state sales tax to include purchases made online. That has been a top priority of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce because it would help businesses based in the state, she said.

She also favors tightening state tax laws so that more corporate profits made in Minnesota are taxed. Those "loopholes" allow companies to keep some Minnesota-made profits overseas, she said.

Sieben also has voted for a gasoline tax increase, but she said that expedited construction of the Hastings bridge on Highway 61.

"It was difficult to raise the gas tax," but it helped bump up bridge construction by more than a decade.

In addition, Sieben supports a proposal by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to raise the income tax rate on high earners.

"I was comfortable when we were (proposing to raise) taxes on people -- after deductions -- making more than $250,000 a year on individuals," she said.

Income tax rates are one area in which Sieben said she differs from other Democrats in the Legislature. She said some DFLers support putting more earners the high-income tax bracket.

Sieben has been criticized locally for voting solidly with her party, but she said there are other areas where she disagrees with fellow Democrats. She opposes a state program that rates child care businesses because she said it is too general -- chain centers receive one rating, rather than individual ratings for each location -- and it does not include home-based child care.

"It just doesn't seem like that great of a use of money," she said.

Sieben also pointed to alternative teacher licensure as an area of disagreement. She opposed a Dayton-backed measure that provided alternative ways for people to become teachers.

"It didn't require any teaching in how to be a teacher, and I just didn't think that made any sense," she said.

If she is re-elected, Sieben said she looks forward to legislative sessions that are not dominated by stadium talks. Lawmakers have dealt with four stadium issues during Sieben's time in the Legislature -- Twins, Gophers football, Vikings and the St. Paul Saints. She voted for public funds for the Twins, Gophers and Vikings stadiums because she said the projects are good for construction workers and businesses and they bolster economic development near where they are built. (Lawmakers did not vote directly on the Saints baseball stadium plan; that received state money awarded through a grant process.)

Sieben said if she returns to the Senate she plans to continue monitoring the PFC pollution issue that has affected Cottage Grove and other east-metro communities. She said she wants to make sure the state Health Department is using the latest data available when determining drinking water standards.

A member of a Senate elections committee, Sieben voted against putting the voter photo ID constitutional ballot and said she plans to vote 'no' on Nov. 6. She said it doesn't address supporters' concerns about felons' ability to vote and may be costly to implement. She proposed an alternative voter verification system, but it was not adopted.

Sieben also voted against putting the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the ballot and said she'll vote against it on Election Day.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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