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Former Gov. Carlson criticizes government leaders in Woodbury speech

Former Minnesota governor Arne Carlson speaks to League of Women Voters' Woodbury-Cottage Grove chapter Monday night in Woodbury. Bulletin photo by Riham Feshir

Would you rather be on Normandy beach on June 6, 1944, or face today's financial challenges?

That was a question asked by former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson Monday night in Woodbury.

Carlson spoke to a room full of community members at the League of Women Voters' annual meeting. The meeting focused on the state's - and the federal government's - financial strains.

The question silenced the room where members and nonmembers of the league couldn't say they would pick World War II over today's dismal economy.

But why did Minnesota go from a $3 billion surplus in 1999 to a deficit so hard to balance up until today?

The inheritance quickly vanished when government started spending freely on research, large income tax cuts and property tax rebates, without long-term planning, Carlson said.

In return, he added, the government began its massive borrowing and numerous "IOUs."

All the "gimmicks" in the world were used to get out of the deficit - pay bills late, shift payments, etc., the former Republican governor said, but little worked.

Although there is not one thing legislators can do now to fix what's taken years to fall apart, Carlson suggested: "Scrub the tax code, you'll be amazed at the goodies that pop out."

His biggest disappointment, however, in recently elected officials is the bickering between the two opposing parties.

"When you're in the red, no matter what you propose, rightly or wrongly, you have very few friends," Carlson said.

Using talented people

Carlson said successful policies don't always have to be created by government and that Minnesota has talent all over the place.

"My heavens, use it," he said.

Additionally, long-term budget planning will be key in fixing the state's economy, he said.

Carlson, first elected governor in 1990 and served from 1991 to 1999, was a member of the Independent-Republican Party.

In 1995, the party changed its name to the Republican Party.

Carlson's centrist ways prompted his endorsement of Tom Horner, an Independent candidate for governor in the 2010 election.

While speaking to the League of Women Voters crowd Monday at the Woodbury Public Works building, Carlson raised his voice as he explained the idea of "scrubbing" the tax code.

Carlson said both sides of the Minnesota Legislature want complete tax reform, but they're just too stubborn.

"Well then, darn it, do it," he said of scrubbing the tax code.

He also continued to advocate for the one-third of Minnesota's school districts that are now seeking tax referendums because of the state's borrowing method.

"It's interesting in political leadership that borrowing money is not really borrowing," he said. "It's taking.

"That's not balancing your budget. That's simply procrastinating the day you're going to pay back your debt."

Though critical of today's government, Carlson stayed optimistic that collaborative leadership will get the state, and the country, out of economic hardship.

"Bipartisanship works magnificently," he said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.