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Q&A With The County Commissioner Candidates: Dave Wahlstedt

Wahlstedt discusses key issues and how he views the job of county commissioner.

The race for the District 6 seat on the Hennepin County Board has become a lively one—with dueling yard signs and Internet comments.

There’s a good reason why. In the coming years, Hennepin County commissioners will have to tackle many complex issues.

To help you know how the candidates would tackle the challenges ahead, Patch asked the candidates where they stand on key issues and how they view the job of county commissioner. Today, we’re running an e-mail interview with challenger Dave Wahlstedt. Yesterday we ran an interview with incumbent Jan Callison.

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Patch: What would your philosophy be toward your work on the County Board?

Dave Wahlstedt: Remembering that it is other people's money we are spending, I would seek through collaborative decision making to steer the county to do only those things that are most critical and to gradually reduce budgets over time to make up for decades of growth at over twice the rate of inflation and income growth.

Patch: How would you find a balance between a reasonable level of taxation and providing necessary services? 

Wahlstedt: We need to have an absolute cap on spending that tracks income levels. In times like these, where the cost of living goes up and incomes go down, we can't let ourselves aggravate the situation by increasing spending and taxes as well. If we do, our new spending will create as many new dependents as it helps.

Patch: How should the county foster economic development?

Wahlstedt: Lower taxes. Less regulation. Excellence in the transportation of choice for 90+ percent of the population—roads. Excellence in other modes of transit that are attainable while still reducing taxes.

Patch: What role should county government have in caring for the less fortunate?

Wahlstedt: We should seek to inspire, empower, encourage and get out of the way of private charity given in love as absolutely the best way to help people in need. We should try to find ways to move back to that model where possible, but there are many things the county does (many of which are required by law) that people have now come to depend on to live, and we need to make it a priority to do those things well.

Patch: What relationship should county government have with cities and other local government entities?

Wahlstedt: There should be a cooperative, collaborative relationship with close communication. I think the cities should be the primary level at which people organize themselves, with each higher level of government as a servant of the lower levels. We don't need mandates from federal and state government to make local governments *more* responsive to the needs of their citizens.

Patch: What relationship should county government have with the state?

Wahlstedt: Again, close communication with the counties telling the states what they need, not the other way around. And we need to change the practice of funneling tax revenues up through multiple levels of bureaucracy to the state and federal level only to be redistributed with a big chunk take out, back to the local governments with strings attached.

Patch: How well does the Southwest Light Rail Transit project fit the needs of the region?

Wahlstedt: I am skeptical of the value of the SWLRT and the rest of the light rail system planned for the Twin Cities. I don't believe we can afford to go into the kind of debt we are looking at for a complete light rail system that only promises to take about 6% of the traffic off the streets.  (That's if we get all the way from where we are now to Chicago's level of public transit ridership!) I'm keeping an open mind, however, until I have a chance to discuss this at greater length with other board members, staff and experts on both sides of the issue.

Patch: What should the county's role be on the Southwest Light Rail project?

Wahlstedt: If it is to go, then we should do our share to pay for it, not be the piggy-bank-of-last-resort that soaks up all the cost overruns as seems to happen in many cases. 

Patch: What new county efforts or projects would you like to introduce?

Wahlstedt: I think we need to do a thorough review of programs in each department and prioritize what we are doing so we know where to cut and where to fund. We tend currently to only look at the needs of each department and add those all up to reach our budget. We need, instead, to set a budget at then look at cutting based on priority of the programs with respect to each other. Providing excellent services is only half the job—the other half is sticking to a budget that is responsible. I think we also need to do some serious contingency planning in case of continued economic recession where revenues from state and local governments continue to drop. Currently spending and borrowing continue as if there are no troubles in sight—which we all know is not true.

Patch: What county efforts or projects would you like to end?

Wahlstedt: I don't have a laundry list, but I have no doubt that as we prioritize we'll find that we would rather let some things go than spread funds too thin between those programs and everything else the county currently does.

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