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Gerlach expects a new atmosphere at the capitol

Chris Gerlach expects a different kind of session this year at the capitol.

Gerlach, the Republican Senator who represents Rosemount in the Minnesota Legislature, expects change now that Republicans control both the House and the Senate.

"It's going to be hugely different from a budget perspective," Gerlach said Monday, the eve of this year's session was scheduled to start. "For the last eight years you had essentially DFL legislatures pushing large budgets at Governor Pawlenty, who either refused to sign them or line-item vetoed them.... This time, you're going to have a Republican legislature sending a pared-down budget."

That budget is going to be the focus of a lot of discussion over the next several months. With the state facing an anticipated $6.2 billion budget deficit, there will have to be changes. Gerlach expects there will be a number of unpopular decisions to make.

Gerlach said he's not interested in raising taxes to erase the deficit. He said part of the problem the state faces is that while revenues are expected to grow by 5 percent over the next two years, expenses are expected to grow by 27 percent.

"It's not going to be easy," he said. "We're going to be cutting a lot of things people have become accustomed to. But they're going to be fair. They're going to be balanced.... It's not going to be easy, but we're going to do that."

New Governor Mark Dayton has said he would like a large bonding bill this year, but Gerlach wants to see hiring done by private businesses, not the government.

Gerlach, who will serve this year as chair of the commerce committee, hopes to see other changes he believes will help the state's budget in the longer term. He'd like to see a reduction in the state's corporate tax rates as well as tax cuts tied to hiring for small-business owners. He also would like to see changes to the state's permitting process for operations like gravel mines and an exploration of the state's option for eliminating no-fault auto insurance.

"That's a decades-old experiment that has not worked," Gerlach said.

Overall, Gerlach looks forward to a productive session.

"It's going to be a very different climate," he said. "It's going to be a very interesting session. Much different than we're used to in the past years."