Election 2008-District 11A: Torrey Westrom, GOP
Please tell us about your background (family, occupation, experience, community involvement, etc.)
I grew up on a dairy farm near Elbow Lake. I graduated from West Central High School in 1991. I have college degrees from Bemidji State University and William Mitchell College of Law. My wife, twin daughters and I live in Elbow Lake. We attend Grace Free Church. I am a member of the Farm Bureau, Chamber of Commerce and do occasional public speaking to student groups and have mentored students with disabilities.
I own a small business. I have served in the House of Representatives since 1996. I have served on several committees such as Agriculture and Rural Development, Energy Finance, Public Safety, Transportation among others. I am running for re-election to continue representing rural values at the state Capitol. As someone who has grown up in rural Minnesota my whole life, I am an ardent voice for rural Minnesota issues.
Local governments are increasingly having to raise property taxes to balance their budgets while state aid, in many cases is falling. What will you do about this situation?
Under the new formula passed in 2003, most rural cities actually receive more money now than they were supposed to get in 2003. This is a function of reworking the formula in 2003 to help balance the state budget so that it was based more on need than historical averages-that always benefited Minneapolis and St. Paul. I have been an ardent voice for the state to replace Local Government Aid funds under the new formula when we have enough money to do that. I supported a significant increase this past year that was a big help to communities in District 11A.
Additionally, we need to remove unfunded mandates on local governments so they can reduce those items from their budgets, if they choose. I also welcome specific unfunded mandates from local government officials as ideas on what the Legislature should repeal and save them money. I support establishing a reverse referendum process so the counties or cities could pass a resolution to opt out of unfunded mandates. This would be a simpler mechanism to bring the unfunded mandates to the attention of the state officials and also allow local governments to not have to pay for things they didn't want. Local elected officials will also need to make some tough decisions as well and reduce spending increases prudently for their community because the taxpayers simply cannot afford to pay for all the "wants" that usually come to government officials. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "We can afford all our needs, but not all our wants." His words are still true today - we all need to reign in our expectations of all levels of government during these very tough economic times.
I have also supported the levy limits passed this year to limit property tax increases, unless there is a local referendum. Presently, if a local government wants to raise their property taxes higher than 3.9 percent, they have to ask the residents to approve it first. The state has actually imposed these types of spending limits most of the years over the past two to three decades to contain property tax increases.
What are your plans to boost agriculture, particularly with alternative energy initiatives putting added pressures on producers and land owners?
Keep their taxes as low as possible. Don't impose more new regulations on them which are commonly proposed by the Twin Cities legislators. We also need to pursue more research and move on to the next generation of bio-fuels. We also have the wind to ammonia pilot project that will be built soon at West Central Research and Outreach Center. I look for exciting results out of this research that will be going on in our own backyard. If farmers can use off-peak wind energy to make fertilizer, we can eventually turn this into a co-op type model and allow local farmers to benefit from making their own fertilizer. We have the new biomass facility at the University of Minnesota, Morris that will be carefully watched to allow us to develop other useable models like this. Farmers and businesses within this region may have another source to sell corn stalks, straw or other biomass as a profitable commodity with projects like this. I believe bio-fuels, renewable energies and new technologies are going to change the landscape of opportunity for rural communities! The state needs to also make sure Minnesotans are able to benefit from ownership in these projects as we seriously move towards energy independence.
K-12 education - What are your insights into where the state's education system is, where it is going and the challenges ahead?
I think rural schools are a strength in our state. Metro schools could learn from our examples. Smaller schools are continuously outperforming the metro schools on test results. In rural schools, we more often have to ask "what if" and find new ways to deliver classes that otherwise would not be offered. Rural schools started the wave of ITV classes between schools. Now we see this across the state and even in colleges. The Internet is revolutionizing our education system, as well. My neighbor is a teacher in St. Paul, but seldom leaves her home because she teaches her students over the Internet. These are changes that continue to change education systems, but the students and families are being given more and more options to fit into their lifestyles and needs. The challenges for education, in my opinion, are providing teachers with the education and support they need in order to help their students succeed -- giving them a relevant education in a quickly evolving and technologically dependent society and with an ever changing economy. Finding a fairer and more equitable funding system and reforms that all parties are willing to embrace are additional challenges I see.
What other issues do you plan to make priorities if you are elected?
A. Health care reform.
B. Education funding reform.
C. Renewable energy incentives and ownership opportunities for Minnesota residents.
D. Rural Job (JOBZ) incentives.
E. Property tax reform and relief along with engaging more voters in the process.