Big issues - energy and water use, health care and transportation - expose some of the differences between DFL Rep. Dan Schoen and Republican challenger Matthew Kowalski.

The two candidates in Minnesota House District 54A offered differing views on those and other topics when they met Sept. 30 for their second election forum.

State lawmakers have a role in guiding Minnesota’s energy future, Schoen said in response to a question about energy policy during the  forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Woodbury/Cottage Grove. That includes trying to reduce fossil fuel use and supporting solar and wind energy, he said.

Kowalski said that should not come through direct government support.

“If you want the state to support something like that, I’m hesitant in that,” said Kowalski, of Cottage Grove. “I don’t agree with the state subsidizing private enterprises - I never have and never will.”

They also parted ways a bit on water. They were asked how to balance growth and development in the Twin Cities with a depleting regional groundwater supply.

Kowalski said the best options include using treated surface water and engaging in conservation.

Schoen, of St. Paul Park, pointed to the need for municipalities to work together on the water issue because the supply doesn’t follow city borders, he said.

Both candidates agreed they support state public works spending known as a bonding bill.

Schoen, a Cottage Grove police officer, talked of securing bonding money for a law enforcement training center near Cottage Grove City Hall, and for co-authoring a bill for money to fund a recreational trail in Hastings. Bonding packages are a good way to get large projects completed around the state, and they generate jobs, Schoen added.

Kowalski said he would support bonding for projects that “are going to help everybody.” He criticized lawmakers’ approval of spending on a new Senate office building, which Schoen supported.

“I think we should spend that money very wisely,” Kowalski said of state-borrowed funds in a bonding bill.

Schoen said a Senate office building was needed because the Capitol lacks adequate space, and he said it’s “a political football now.”

Kowalski said Minnesota needs to do a better job of maintaining its existing roads and bridges.

“Maybe public transport can go on the back burner for a while,” he said, as the existing system is upgraded and improved. He cited road work and transportation as the type of bonding bill spending he could support.

Kowalski, who opposes the state’s MNsure private health insurance marketplace, said the money that was spent on that program could have been used on transportation.

“To fund those priorities they have to be priorities,” he said. “We don’t need to raise more taxes. We just need to make sure our priorities are correct.”

Schoen said businesses and chambers of commerce need to be brought together and asked what type of transportation funding and improvements they will support. Business support has been vital in past legislative transportation funding deals.

“(We’ve) got to get a compromise put together,” he said.

The MNsure program made evident a clear divide between Schoen and Kowalski.

Transitioning toward a free-market health care system would be the best option for increasing health insurance coverage, Kowalski said.

“It works in every other aspect of our daily lives,” he said.

Schoen called that an “unacceptable” solution. MNsure had “technical” issues at its launch but people are using it to buy private insurance through a marketplace.

“We can’t leave people behind,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that were helped here.”

Kowalski and Schoen were in disagreement on anti-bullying efforts in Minnesota schools.

Schoen said anti-bullying bill approved by the DFL-controlled Legislature provided a statewide standard, and lawmakers provided funding for a school safety resource center that helps train police officers and school staff.

The Legislature listened to students who were “crying for help” on the bullying issue, Schoen said.

Kowalski said improving a school environment is best done by the people in the school, not by legislators. Schools should have the ability to set their own policy, he said.