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Dan Sparks — I-90 Coalition boosts southern Minnesota

By Dan Sparks

Living in southern Minnesota, there are certain things that are important to us that may not be a priority for other people throughout the state. It’s important to have strong advocates for our needs at the Capitol; otherwise it’s easy for our agenda to get lost in the mix.

This was the main reason for forming the I-90 Coalition, founded in 2005 by lawmakers who serve southern Minnesota communities. We broke the mold and formed a committee that looked beyond party labels and focused on what we have in common. Democrats and Republicans who serve in the House and Senate, representing districts that lie on or around the state’s I-90 corridor, serve on the committee.

The idea is that having a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both bodies of the Legislature working on an issue gives it a much better chance of succeeding. To decide which issues to pursue, we meet several times a year to share the types of input and ideas we hear most often from constituents in each of our districts. Issues range from agricultural to education to transportation. When we find common topics that we feel will benefit our entire region, either through increased economic development or improved support for rural Minnesotans, we add them to a priority list.

Last week, we released a list of eight priorities that we will work together to promote during the 2007 session. Some of our priorities focus on:

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  • Job Growth: To help attract new jobs to the region and improve economic development, our group will continue to support bioscience initiatives in southern Minnesota, including the University of Minnesota-Mayo Foundation Partnership and a Center for Renewable Energy at Minnesota State Mankato.
  • Rural tax base: Many farmers have expressed concern that they end up caring an undue portion of the bill when new property tax levies are approved. The I-90 group supports a bill to treat agricultural lands equally when it comes to considering the tax base for school bonded debt levies.
  • Long-term care: Many of our rural nursing homes are struggling to survive and, with an aging baby boomer population, it’s crucial that we help these facilities meet patients’ needs. Our group will support equitable reimbursement rates for rural and low-payment rate long-term care facilities throughout the state.
  • Transportation: In Mower, Fillmore and Freeborn counties, we have 133 bridges that are classified as "deficient." In addition, 70 percent of traffic fatalities occur on rural Minnesota’s crumbling roads. The state desperately needs new transportation investments. The I-90 Coalition supports the sale of $70 million in state transportation bonds for local bridge replacement and rehabilitation, as well as grants to help counties improve state-aid highways.

We also will be vocal in the debate over how to divide the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax revenue dedication that was approved by voters in November. Southern Minnesota lawmakers want to ensure a full 60 percent of the revenue is deposited into the highway user tax distribution fund; 35 percent in the metro area transit fund; and 5 percent into the greater Minnesota transit fund.
For a complete list of the I-90 Coalition’s priorities, please contact my office. As always, your input is especially important as we move forward with these debates this session. The Senate has set an aggressive agenda — we aim to have bills passed before the Easter holiday, which means much work will be done in the next three to four weeks. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns as the process moves along.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, represents District 27 in the Minnesota Senate.

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