The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 7, 2013

Join interests to gain power

WHY IT MATTERS: While other parts of the state receive the largesse of the Legislature, our region continues to lose out due to lack of collaboration

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Winning is in the eye of the beholder.

The 2012-13 Minnesota legislative session was seen by many observers as a marquee session for Democrats. They achieved their promised increase in taxes on the upper income, paid back the school shift debt, increased spending on education, found bipartisan support for Local Government Aid formula, enacted same sex marriage legislation and balanced the budget.

However, for all the wins, Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said a personal failure for her was the inability to form a coalition of rural legislators to push through a bonding bill.

DFL Rep. Alice Hausman crafted an $800 million bonding bill with seeming bipartisan support that fell apart in the final hours of the session by five votes. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk was able to slip in a smaller proposal to fund the Capitol remodeling that quickly was loaded with special projects to attract certain Republican votes but missing Hausman’s bonding for higher education and house projects.

What also failed in the final stretch was bonding for the St. Peter Treatment Center and the Mankato civic center expansion, a project where this region just seems to continually be on the losing end.

Sheran told a regional gathering for a legislative roundup recently that while there were some laudable successes, “it was really disappointing” to lose yet again on the bonding issue. And she cites the lack of a strong regional coalition that holds together to present its case. “We want a coalition that is not caucus led or economic interest led. We need to build this interactive coalition of all north, south and metro area and getting to the size and content that survives a 60 percent majority."

Toward the end of the session, all eyes were on the silent success of the Democratic freshmen —including Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato — who pushed through a revision of the LGA that had wide geographical and bipartisan support.

But, Sheran said, that was the result of “persuading the House leadership group that worked within their caucus to make change.” The resulting LGA formula was “not as beneficial to rural Minnesota as we would like it but it was essential to all parties agreed to get the votes on property tax relief.”

And there’s the rub and the challenge. None of the area Republicans voted for the projects and instead following their leadership who objected to the size of the bonding bill and arguing this wasn’t a bonding year. That doesn’t mean all regions were cut out of some largesse from the state capital.

Rochester received $455 million in state funds towards the Mayo Clinic’s growth plan. Legislators gave special focus to the Iron Range, which was allowed to increase the per-ton tax on taconite iron ore to help rebuild and retool schools in the region; and the metro area which received the bulk of this year’s bonding funds.

Without a doubt, coalitions of common regional interest are powerful and useful in the Legislature and are a big challenge for South Central Minnesota.

Local legislators — together and regardless of party affiliation — should be able to provide a convincing argument of the need for the region and convince their caucus leaders that our region is no less important than others.