The scorecard for outstate Minnesota provided by the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton can be summarized as significantly under a .500 win-loss record.
That came on the hope that outstate Minnesota would for once have a winning record. The results are disappointing at best and confounding at worst. That’s because outstate Republicans who helped the party win the majority in the House touted their goals to shore up the needs of a long neglected outstate.
Wins stacked up like this: More money for nursing homes ($138 million), relief for farmers facing bird flu losses, and maybe a smattering of other things so insignificant that don’t register on anyone’s radar.
Losses that impact greater Minnesota most included: Broadband grant funding that was cut $10 million from last year’s $20 million, no tax bill that would have provided farmers property tax relief, no transportation bill that would have shored up crumbling roads in outstate Minnesota, no increase in local government aid to small towns, no funding for workforce housing tax credits.
Among the losses, the lack of transportation funding will do the most damage to outstate Minnesota. Every year, miles and miles of Minnesota roads in outstate fall into a state of disrepair where fixing them will cost twice as much. Yet, leadership in both parties delayed again.
Both the GOP and the DFL governor and Senate agreed mostly on the scope of the need. That they could not compromise to get it done is disappointing. The DFL House and Senate transportation experts came up with a compromise, ceding to some big GOP issues like big reductions in the gas tax and offsetting tax cuts elsewhere. But by that time the regular session was over, and the GOP House and governor were trying to negotiate a quick special session.
When a bipartisan Legislature during the last session approved $20 million in broadband grant funding, observers figured some kind of increase would be a no-brainer given the $20 million only served half of the $40 million in requested funding from needed broadband projects all over Minnesota. The “compromise” plan was a $10 million cut and would have been zero had not outstate newspapers chided their GOP lawmakers to rectify the extreme policy of one suburban Republican lawmaker.
An outstate workforce housing program did get $4 million in funding, but that pales in comparison to the need and the available funds of a $2 billion state budget surplus.
Locally, the record appears much the same. The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota got $400,000, about $100,000 in a bonding bill to provide flood relief and $300,000 in Legacy grant funding. At the same time, a needed $7.1 million upgrade to the St. James sewer system went unfunded.
Even former GOP legislators were making the case that outstate Minnesota did not have a winning record. Brad Finstad, former Republican lawmaker from New Ulm, and now in charge of the Center for Rural Policy and Development, described the lack of a transportation bill as one of the session’s greatest failures, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio.
Former GOP Rep. Dan Dorman, of Albert Lea, and now leader of the Greater Minnesota Partnership lobbying group, said the promise of the session being aimed at putting greater Minnesota needs first clearly fell far short.
“Everybody had these high hopes it would be the greater Minnesota session. And clearly, it can’t be called that,” he told Minnesota Public Radio.
While it should never be the intention of legislators to simply fill their home districts with unnecessary pork projects, they should be able to fill real needs for fixing crumbling roads and upgrading sewage treatment plants.
The win-loss record shows outstate has been relegated to the bottom of the standings. Again.