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Zimmerman checks in with constituents

Shannon Zimmerman’s been getting his fill so far in Madison.

“I’ve been drinking from a firehose,” the River Falls Republican told a small gathering of community members Friday at the UW-River Falls Hudson Center.

As a freshman Assembly member just a few weeks into his first session at the Capitol, there’s been a lot thrown at him. He’s a member of two education committees, in addition to the Committee on Jobs and the Economy and the Tourism Committee.

Zimmerman said he’s been encouraged, however, by bipartisan efforts he’s witnessed at the Capitol.

“We’re there to get work done,” he said at last week’s listening session. “Above all things, that’s what I’m there to accomplish.”

He used his visit to Hudson, during what he said was his first full week back in Assembly District 30, as an effort to gather community input he said he’ll take back to Madison.

Among the issues swirling at the Capitol is the future of transportation funding. Gov. Scott Walker said he’d be open to an increase in funding, provided those costs are offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. Assembly Speaker has proposed a gas tax increase amid an unexpected funding windfall in state coffers.

Zimmerman said he plans to defend the taxpayer as the transportation funding discussion continues but added that he travels the same roads as ambulances and others.

“I’m not a magician,” he said of transportation funding. “We manage the checkbook the same way you do.”

During the session, Pierce County Board Supervisor Mike Kahlow urged Zimmerman and fellow legislators to consider the impact that budget decisions have on lower bodies of government. No one asks, “How’s that going to affect you?” the River Falls resident said.

Zimmerman agreed those lines of communication must be strong.

“These laws have an immediate effect on you,” he said, adding that he will be meeting with local government officials later in the month.

Fellow River Falls resident Janet Ellinger told Zimmerman that deploying more mental health resources to rural areas should be a priority. Kahlow chimed in, telling the lawmaker that there are minimal non-governmental mental-health offerings in Pierce County.

“Accessibility is very much an issue,” Kahlow said. “They’re just not getting service.”

River Falls resident Gary Walsh added that post-traumatic stress issues for military veterans should be considered among mental health solutions.

Zimmerman later addressed the refugee resettlement issue that caused a stir last year in Hudson before the plan to bring Syrian families here was scrapped. President Donald Trump has since suspended immigration for people coming from certain countries, including Syria.

“I’m fine with that,” Zimmerman said, saying security comes first.

Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce President Blake Fry raised the issue of tax reciprocity between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Legislation in Minnesota has been revived that would offset tax overpayment by Minnesotans working in Wisconsin.

For decades, the states had an agreement that made tax time simpler — and in many cases cheaper — for people living in one state and working in the other, but efforts to reinstate that have failed.

For years, the states had a deal that allowed people in one state working in the other to pay the lower of the two income tax rates and to just file one tax return. Under the so-called reciprocity agreement, Wisconsin made annual payments to Minnesota.

The new legislation would resolve a decade-long dispute between the states with Minnesota taking unilateral action.

Fry asked if the issue is making any waves in Madison. Not outside lawmakers inside Senate District 10 — which encompasses St. Croix, Pierce, Polk and Dunn Counties — Zimmerman said.

“It needs to be addressed,” he told the group of about 10. “To me, it feels like something relatively easy to resolve.”

Zimmerman said he plans to hold community listening sessions every month. He said he’ll also hold community meetings in Hudson and River Falls Feb. 23 to discuss Gov. Scott Walker’s budget. Zimmerman said a member of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will accompany him at those meetings.

Forum News Service Minnesota Capitol Bureau Chief Don Davis contributed to this report

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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