Other’s Opinion: Greater Minn. fared well at Capitol

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Mankato Free Press

Distributed by the Associated Press

Legislature Greater Minnesota fared well at Capitol

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It’s hard to say any one constituency in Minnesota was a “loser” in the distribution of a near $18 billion surplus. But one can always make a scorecard, and pundits and politicians are busy doing so.

We’ve seen few arguments that any one institution or one program was underfunded this year, although one can make the case that only half of the special education funding need was met by the 10% increase in K-12 budget. It’s an example of an unfunded mandate by the federal government that has required schools to pay for special education when it was the federal government’s responsibility.

Still, providing 50% of special education funding from the state should reduce the cost for all schools on special education wherever they are located.

That is an example that can be extended to many programs that saw an increase in funding. And because Greater Minnesota has a bigger aging population, more difficulty providing day care and generally lower wages, it benefits across the board on everything from local government aid, new public safety aid and human service funding.

The Minnesota chamber has criticized the 38% growth of state spending and $10 billion in new taxes over four years, but that money goes somewhere and it mostly goes back to the people in a lot of different ways, just not in big tax rebates.

The investments in child care are estimated to reduce childhood poverty by 33%. But it turns out rural counties have just as much, or more in some cases, childhood poverty than metro areas. Childhood poverty rates in Hennepin (13%) and Ramsey (20%) counties are dwarfed by childhood poverty in Cass (23%) and Hubbard (25%) counties.

Greater Minnesota schools are also more often challenged by funding than metro areas schools as they lose student numbers and population available to fund those schools at a greater rate than in growing metro areas.

Critics of the DFL increase in the gas tax say it will hurt Greater Minnesota more than the metro area because outstate workers drive farther to work. But how far one lives from work is a lifestyle choice, and one that can be changed without government restriction.

We’ve long argued road repair and expansion has been underfunded in the state even as MnDOT’s own rating system showed a growing number of roads in “poor” condition.

Still, Greater Minnesota interest groups had to fight off what might be described as “Twin Cities liberal” proposals that would have changed environmental rules and thwarted economic development in outstate, according to a report in MinnPost. Bradley Peterson, executive director with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said the group spent a lot of time fighting of metro-centric ideas that could have hampered development in Greater Minnesota, but that Gov. Tim Walz had worked to moderate many of those proposals.

Peterson praised the DFL for increases in funding for local government aid, again, something that had stagnated under past administrations.

The $300 million for nursing homes was a late addition to the Walz budget and Republicans deserve some credit for pushing it. But again, Walz changed course when he needed to and the money will go to many outstate nursing homes and save some from closing.

And finally, the $2.5 billion bonding bill funded scores of water treatment plants in small towns across the state, again, providing a benefit that would have been costly to small-town taxpayers had their own cities taken on the funding.

Minnesota State colleges and universities, which are mostly located in small towns or rural areas, got historic increases in funding. Tuition will be frozen for two years. New classroom buildings and labs are on the drawing board.

And there was no gridlock. Spicer City Administrator Jacob Kolander told MinnPost that small cities suffer more when nothing gets done. That may be the biggest lesson for Republicans in the future.

Greater Minnesota fared well under DFL control of the Legislature and the governor’s office. It’s hard to find a loser here.