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COL Pawlenty protest aside, rural areas are ignored

We think Gov. Tim Pawlenty protests a bit much.

Pawlenty met with reporters from greater Minnesota last week and lamented what he called a "rural-metro jihad mentality," which frequently pits greater Minnesota legislators against those from the Twin Cities metro area on issues such as state aid and transportation funding, the Associated Press reported.

"It's a disservice to the debate," Pawlenty said. "I don't think it serves Minnesota as a state well ... We're one state. We should help each other out as we can afford it and in a fair manner, but it has to be a complete story."

The truth is Minnesota is quickly becoming two states: The more prosperous metro area and regional centers that are dealing with growing pains and the less prosperous rural areas and inner cities that have aging populations and decaying infrastructure.

Gov. Pawlenty says "we should help each other out as we can afford it and in a fair manner," but last year's local government aid cuts were anything but fair. Small cities were told to make cuts to get by. It's pretty hard to make cuts when you've got one full-time employee that plows the snow, mows the parks and looks after the town's water system and one part-time employee that does the books, one small town mayor said. The council members and mayor are volunteers. The fire department is all volunteer. Police coverage is contracted, and the fees keep rising.

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The town will be hard pressed to raise any more tax money because most of the citizens are fixed income senior citizens. Young families continue to migrate to the regional centers and metro area in search of jobs.

Pawlenty's Job Opportunity Building Zones are designed to help struggling rural areas, but without a more comprehensive plan, they aren't likely to do much in areas where jobs are sorely needed. Instead, the JOBZ are likely to relocate jobs in wealthier parts of the state.

Pawlenty's administration did nothing but watch while the Extension Service in Minnesota backed away from a presence in every county in the state -- hurting Extension customers who are a long way from the regional centers that have been created.

Pawlenty has been praised by farm groups for supporting initiatives to strengthen the state's livestock industry. That's a good place to start, but we've got a broader idea.

Let's bring together groups that are working on alternative crops for biomass and alternative crops for water quality protection and value-added markets. Let's talk about what we want rural Minnesota to look like. Let's talk about keeping our kids in our small towns.

What do our kids need to stay in small towns? Jobs. How do we provide those jobs? Maybe through some innovative new crops and the opportunities those may provide such as biomass electricity plants, manufacturing of unique items or yet-unknown tourism treks.

We also need strong educational systems, good hospitals and clinics, and retail shops.

Everyone knows livestock is the original value added, but it's time to move beyond that and bring together a Rural Minnesota Revitalization Task Force. The group needs to be broad-based and should include the state's best minds. Their purpose would be to draw a picture of what we want Minnesota to look like in 50 years.

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Some say it's too late to make changes. Rural Minnesota is losing population and that can't be changed. That will be true only if we, the citizens of rural Minnesota, let it happen. Let's prove the naysayers wrong and re-energize rural Minnesota. Let's ask the governor to put his clout behind a Revitalization Task Force to address the needs of an aging rural Minnesota.

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