There was some good work done at the Minnesota Legislature this year, according to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. But there were also bad politics and standoffs at play that turned into an ugly legislative process for the state.
That's the crux behind the coalition's breakdown of the 2018 legislative session: There were more political standoffs, more closed-door meetings, more omnibus legislation that complicated voting for serious policy and funding that would have benefited rural Minnesota.
"This has become kind of a hallmark of how things are going," said Bradley Peterson, executive director of the coalition, during a lunch session Wednesday at the coalition's annual summer meeting in Mankato.
The coalition, which represents and lobbies for rural cities in St. Paul, is in town this week to talk all things local with public officials from across the state. The group is co-sponsoring Thursday night's gubernatorial forum at the Verizon Center as well. (As an aside: Lori Swanson and Tim Pawlenty will not participate in the forum. Peterson said Pawlenty declined due to other commitments and Swanson is addressing a family health emergency.)
Part of Wednesday's meeting involved discussing what went right and wrong at the Capitol in 2018. Peterson highlighted the $1 billion public works bill and opening talks on tweaking Local Government Aid formulas as good progress for outstate Minnesota.
Yet Peterson was also quick to highlight the sniping between political parties, as well as some of the political moves played in the Legislature last spring — all of which delayed or doomed key policies and funding for Greater Minnesota.
Peterson and the coalition pointed out the increasing divide beween Democrats and Republicans, gerrymandering and even the team-based atmosphere among political caucuses.
"When you sign up to run, you sign up to run as a teammate of everyone else on your party," Peterson said. "And when you get to the Legislature, you are expected to act as a teammate. Members of the Legislature don't necessarily take kindly when people who are supposed to be on their team articulate views that are not the views generally being articulated by that team."
Those factors often lead into large-scale omnibus bills stuffed with unrelated measures that get bogged down with partisan partisan politics. The 989-page omnibus budget bill, nicknamed #OmnibusPrime on Twitter, included everything from broadband funding to surveys on how anglers feel about stocking in Minnesota lakes.
The final version of the bill was introduced three hours before this year's legislative deadline and ultimately failed to clear the Legislature. Aside from the aforementioned broadband funding, job training money, child care funding and money to fix streets in small cities were also rolled into the failed omnibus bill.
So how do cities address the increasing discontent with Minnesota's legislative process?
Peterson said the coalition would continue to work with lawmakers and candidates to inform them about key issues. The coalition believes keeping lawmakers informed about rural issues, rather than trying to push legislative fixes, will better benefit Greater Minnesota.
"Good outcomes are possible," Peterson said.
Mayors in Mankato and North Mankato believe cooperating with each other and with more cities around the state to lobby for rural issues will bear better fruit for local governments.
"We know (the Legislature's) somewhat dysfunctional, but we also know that we work better together when we can leverage all of our assets," North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen said.
Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson said the Mankato area has put in enough work at the Capitol in recent years to garner support for some of the area's biggest concerns, such as a $7 million water quality project along the Minnesota River.
"Most of these issues could play out well regardless of who's at the Capitol," Anderson said.