If you knocked on the doors of 100 houses in random corners of Minnesota and asked those who answered if they thought it was a pretty good idea to invest $250 million in things that would benefit Greater Minnesota like workforce housing, broadband infrastructure, job training, public infrastructure for private business development, and environmental regulatory reform, most would more than likely nod in agreement.
If you knocked on the doors of 100 houses in random corners of Minnesota and asked those who answered if they thought it was a pretty good idea to invest $250 million in things that would benefit Greater Minnesota like workforce housing, broadband infrastructure, job training, public infrastructure for private business development, and environmental regulatory reform, most would more than likely nod in agreement. That’s especially the case when one considers that Minnesota currently has a $1.9 billion budget surplus.
Then, if you also asked them if they think it’s a good idea to fund a comprehensive transportation plan for roads, bridges and transit across the state that uses some general fund money, some surplus money, and revenue from a small gas tax increase, most might think that’s a pretty decent approach as well.
Problem is, those 100 people don’t have to worry about getting re-elected, or have to answer to the fringe factions of their respective political parties.
To their credit, at this point in the 2015 Minnesota Legislative session, the DFL-led Senate and the GOP-led House are on board with many of the priorities being put forth by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, priorities detailed last week by the CGMC’s Tim Flaherty during a visit to Crookston. Bills that reflec those priorities have been introduced in both legislative bodies.
But on transportation, the most expensive and most pressing issue, as long as DFLers refuse to spend any general fund dollars and insist on a 16 percent gas tax increase to fund much of their transportation proposal, and as long as Republicans refuse to include any new revenue at all from even a small gas tax increase in their transportation vision, then Flaherty says continued gridlock is the most likely outcome of this legislative session. On transportation at least.
Then there’s DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. He’s a liberal who likes to invest in good things that benefit good people and people struggling to make a go of it, and that’s certainly laudable. But his administration is too focused on the metro area when it comes to investing money in worthy initiatives that could benefit all kinds of Minnesotans who don’t call the Twin Cities metro area home. Greater Minnesota continues to lose out to Dayton’s Twin Cities-focused interests.
During the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Dayton’s Republican challenger, Jeff Johnson, said at a campaign stop that Dayton had “abandoned” Greater Minnesota. Dayton’s staff responded swiftly and enthusiastically to that claim with an impressive-looking list of things Dayton had done that benefit Greater Minnesota. A couple days later, an editorial appeared in this space that touted Dayton’s investments in Greater Minnesota and chided Johnson a bit.
But here’s the deal: If the leader of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities spends half his visit to Crookston saying that our governor is continually shortchanging Greater Minnesota cities, that’s a point of view that should carry a lot of weight. When Flaherty, to further illustrate his point, shows a chart that compares current legislative initiatives being pitched by the CGMC, the Minnesota Senate and House as well as Dayton, and the latter has far more squares with a “$0” in the middle than the other three, what should that tell you?
If a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature see things they like in the CGMC’s priority list, that should be telling, too. There are a lot of common-sense initiatives on that list that seek to boost the whole state, not just the metro area. Dayton should keep that in mind; he may not be running for a third term as governor, but if a lot of Greater Minnesotans feel shortchanged by their DFL governor, they just might take out their frustrations on DFL legislators who are seeking to remain in office.
But, man, is that transportation issue ever a beast. Like Flaherty said, passing a plan that makes sense financially is going to take leadership and compromise, and you likely can’t have one without the other.