Jim Mulder, St. Paul, Minn., column: Put more 'rural' in legislative approach
By Jim Mulder ST. PAUL -- Just six weeks into the 2011 Legislative session, it is becoming more and more apparent that rural legislators need to think a little less Republican and Democrat and a little more rural. One need only look at some of th...
By Jim Mulder
ST. PAUL -- Just six weeks into the 2011 Legislative session, it is becoming more and more apparent that rural legislators need to think a little less Republican and Democrat and a little more rural.
One need only look at some of the proposals that are coming from both the governor and the Legislature to realize that rural Minnesota does not appear to be a priority.
The initial proposed budget cuts will have a disproportionately larger impact on the citizens in Renville, Minn., than on those living in Roseville, Minn.
Rural legislators should band together and create a bipartisan rural caucus that will focus on critically important issues for rural Minnesota and protect rural Minnesota from attacks from urban and suburban legislators and the governor.
First and foremost, rural legislators should insist on a bonding bill in 2011 that invests in supporting rural job growth. Three key investment areas include issuing state bonds for the more than $100 million of shovel-ready bridge projects that are located across the state.
Not only are these projects ready to go, but also they are of a size that will let small contractors bid for and win construction contracts -- and yes, they are high in the priority list of needed infrastructure improvements.
A second key bonding investment is to expand Minnesota's 10-ton and 12-ton road networks. Agriculture has transformed itself since I grew up on the farm in Renville. Nobody hooks up a wagon to the 'B' John Deere to haul corn to town.
Today, 18-wheelers are the norm, and they travel to get the best price.
Minnesota's rural road network has not been able to keep up with this transformation. The state must invest before the current roads crumble under the weight of rural commerce.
Third, the Legislature should bond to establish high-speed broadband communications access to every community and school in the state. Just as it was not a good business practice for private sector telephone companies to wire the state without government help, the same is true for broadband.
It makes no sense that someone sitting in St. Paul can have faster connection speed to India than they can to Madison, Minn.
Rural Minnesota can compete with the world if the telecommunication tools are available. Investing in broadband will let rural school districts offer college-level classes at local high schools, rather than watching their best and brightest children driving miles to college campuses.
In addition to supporting bonding proposals that can grow jobs in rural Minnesota, rural legislators need to support government redesign efforts that empower local cities, counties, towns and schools to make decisions that make sense for their communities.
Is it really necessary to have some state economic development staffer coming into your community when the county and city have local economic development staff? State employees are looking for the big score, while local staffs recognize that economic development is adding one job at a time in each community.
Last but not least, as the state makes the budget cuts it needs to make to resolve the state's $6.2 billion shortfall, rural legislators need to recognize that cuts in support services to seniors, reductions in state aid to cities and counties and less school funding will have a greater impact on rural communities than on urban, suburban and exurban communities.
If cuts are made, set the outcomes that need to be met and have the state get out of the way of local officials.
Rural legislators need to look at who is leading their caucuses and be concerned that Republican and Democratic leaders may be more than happy to throw rural Minnesota under the bus. By forming a bipartisan rural caucus, rural legislators can be in the game, be part of the discussion and be the tipping point for legislative decisions.
Mulder served for 21 years as executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties. He also was Independence Party candidate Tom Horner's running mate in the 2010 Minnesota governor's race.