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Rural Minnesota seeks funding for transportation, Internet, housing and more

ST. PAUL -- A pair of greater Minnesota organizations seeks more than half of an expected $1 billion state budget surplus for their priorities.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the Greater Minnesota Partnership announced Tuesday that their top funding requests include transportation, high-speed Internet, Local Government Aid paid to cities, job training and housing.

For the most part, the organizations did not suggest tax increases to pay for their wants.

Rural lobbyist Marty Seifert, a former lawmaker from Marshall, said they leave funding decisions to lawmakers, but added: "We realize there are competing interests for the dollars that are out there."

However, the groups did suggest that new taxes pay for $200 million to improve local roads and a like amount for the Corridors of Commerce project that would go to highways that connect regional center communities.

Bradley Peterson of the cities' coalition said the two organizations support a proposal by the Move MN transportation advocacy group to institute a sales tax on wholesale gasoline, raise vehicle license plate fees and borrow money.

Peterson said that much-discussed transportation funding "could be the greatest unknown in terms of how this session plays out."

Republicans generally have opposed tax increases, but some say that they would consider higher taxes for better roads and bridges. Many Democrats have leaned toward such increases.

Peterson predicted that if there is a public works measure, known as a bonding bill, that Republicans would use it to help transportation.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton have said no general tax increase is needed. Democrats, including the governor, say that does not include taxes for transportation.

The $1 billion surplus announced last month nearly could be taken up by inflationary cost increases, leaving the option of forcing state agencies to absorb the extra charges or lawmakers providing more money.

Here are the state price tags in the next two years for programs the partnership and coalition support:

  •  $45.5 million for Local Government Aid, a program to help cities without a strong property tax bases afford fundamental services such as public safety.
  •  $100 million to $200 million to improve greater Minnesota high-speed Internet services, known as broadband.
  •  $5 million next year and $10 million a year after that to improve job training so greater Minnesota manufacturers can find skilled workers.
  •  $100 million to encourage builders to put up housing in communities where there are jobs but too few homes.
  •  $400 million for greater Minnesota road and bridge work.

Rural advocates said their wish list would help improve economic growth.

The coalition and partnership did not include improved nursing home funding on their priority list. Peterson said that funding, too, is important, but the groups concentrated on things that would aid the economy.

“Since the November election, there has been a lot of talk about making 2015 the ‘greater Minnesota session,’ but it’s important to define what that actually means,” Peterson said. “If lawmakers are truly committed to achieving long-term growth and stability in greater Minnesota, they must make significant progress on removing some of the key barriers to economic growth.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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