Rybak stresses importance of education, LGA

Published 6:54 am Friday, December 11, 2009

R.T. Rybak had two passionate points to get across during a stop in Austin Thursday.

The Minneapolis mayor and 2010 DFL gubernatorial candidate said educational funding in Minnesota needs to be reformed — and that nothing gets him more angry than seeing a governor “sitting in his office” rather than getting out to schools.

Rybak also had strong words about Local Government Aid, saying that he would work hard to get the state working with — not against — cities and counties that need the support.

Email newsletter signup

The not-so-veiled criticisms of incumbent Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who made waves by unalloting funds from local governments in June, seemed to be the mayor’s attempt to distinguish himself from a crowded DFL field during his Austin visit.

Rybak, who is among 11 DFLers battling for the nomination, spoke at the Coffee House on Main to a small crowd. He said that as mayor of Minneapolis, he understands the importance of state funding for local government better than any other candidate.

“It’s our money,” Rybak said of towns and counties across the state. “We shouldn’t have to go and beg for it.”

Rybak said that as governor, he’d work to reduce state spending and bring it more in line with where many cities are at.

He also said that without solid state funding, local governments can struggle to provide necessary services, like fire and police departments.

In June, Gov. Pawlenty cut $300 million from towns, cities, counties and townships over the next two years, including more than $1.1 million from Austin.

Rybak said using the power of unallotment is an “affront” to Minnesotans who elected state representatives and senators to work on the budget.

“When you put the boot in the back of a the Legislature,” Rybak said, “you put the boot in the back of a Minnesota resident.”

Instead, the mayor said he will strive to work with the Legislature and other officials, like the state auditor, to come up with solutions.

“I will be able to deliver results on this issue,” Rybak said. “The door will open.”

Rybak also honed in on education, saying it’s important to protect Minnesota’s “brainpower” long into the future.

The mayor said funding for schools needs to be done more equitably, ensuring that schools in poorer communities don’t get left out.

“Minnesota needs talent everywhere,” he said. “We need to fix the funding strategy.”

Listening curiously to Rybak’s thoughts on education were Joe Brown, superintendent of Grand Meadow schools, and five students from his Advanced Placement high school government class.

Brown said he endorses Rybak and thinks he can do a lot for the state’s schools and citizens.

“I’m looking for a governor to restore Minnesota,” Brown said.

Like Rybak, the superintendent said school funding is a big issue. Brown said he plans on submitting a proposal to Rybak about how to level the playing field.

The idea, borrowed from Iowa’s system, would have the state government make up gaps in property tax income between communities so that poorer areas don’t get left behind.

Brown said he sees Rybak as someone who would take his idea and seriously spend time thinking about it.

He also said he thinks Rybak’s roots make him a good candidate.

The Rybak family traces its history back to New Prague, Minn., where R.T.’s great grandparents helped form the town. The mayor spoke extensively about how this background has shaped him.

He also spoke of the support from his mother and wife, both of whom joined him in Austin and spoke on behalf of the candidate, husband and son.

But ultimately, Rybak’s success — or failure — will come down to his ability to distinguish himself first from the crowded DFL field and then from a Republican candidate, who some are saying could be former St. Paul mayor and U.S. Senator Norm Coleman.

Rybak said his experience in Minneapolis makes him ready for not only the challenge of distinguishing himself from other candidates, but the challenge of running the state during troubled times. Minnesota currently faces a projected budget deficit of $1.2 billion this budget cycle, and a $5.4 billion shortfall in the following two years.

“I’ve been a hands-on leader,” Rybak said. “I think I know how to bring people together.”