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Legislators will deal with a new environment at the captiol

Dave Thompson expects a lot of busy days and more than a little frustration as the 2013 legislative session gets under way this week.

Thompson, a Republican elected in November to his second term in the Minnesota Senate, returns to a legislature that looks very different than it did when lawmakers adjourned last year. Democrats have won a majority in the House and the Senate, and that has Thompson worried about just how much say he and other Republicans will have in the decisions that get made.

"There's a new sheriff in town," Thompson said last week. "I tend to be an optimist in life and I hope for the best, but obviously the people who are now in charge of the legislature have a very different world view than I do."

That different point of view will come into play in one of the session's most pressing issues: the budget. The legislature will have address a projected $1.1 billion deficit. Thompson believes the Republican approach to the budget has been effective in the years he has served at the capitol. In 2010 there was a deficit of $5.1 billion, and Thompson said the Republican policy of making spending cuts wherever possible helped drive the improvement.

He believes that policy got a vote of support when Thompson first ran for office.

"We, being Republicans, ran in 2010 on a very clear message that we felt the government spends too much money, tries to do too much for too many," Thompson said. "We needed to change that.... Certainly I was elected on having a two-year record of being a strong fiscal conservative."

Things are different this time around. Democrats took control of the House and the Senate running in large part on a policy that included tax increases for at least part of the population.

Thomson doesn't expect those results to change his approach, but he realizes the vote has meaning.

"I like to be intellectually honest, and in 2010 when Republicans took over the House and the Senate, I certainly believed that was Minnesota saying, 'Let's do things differently,'" he said. "I hope (the November vote) doesn't mean that Minnesotans want a welfare state, but it certainly would appear that there's some sympathy for the grow government message."

Thompson said he expects to be on the losing side of a lot of votes this year.

Rep. Pat Garofalo also expects some challenges in this year's session.

"The Democrats will drive the agenda," he said. "I'll do my best to try to stop them from raising taxes, but they've been pretty candid about the fact that they want a larger government."

Beyond the budget, Garofalo expects to see discussion this year about gun control and about same-sex marriage. There has already been talk of a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

There will also be discussion about adding Farmington to the metropolitan transit taxing district. That could mean big tax increases in the city.

"I'll fight against it," Garofalo said. "We just don't have the votes to stop it."

Thompson said he would like to see activity this session on education reform. He is looking for changes that will increase competition and give parents more choices in where they send their children to school.

"In my view, a mother or father or couple who have a child in a school that is incapable of getting that child to read should have a way out, and it should be an easy way out. And it shouldn't be a financially burdensome way out."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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