LET Legislature must address mandates

By Paul F. Wilson

With so much riding on the outcome of the legislative session, I feel an urgent need to respond to what I see as a dangerous trend occurring in St. Paul.

I write these comments with two perspectives in mind, one in my tenure as a local elected official, the other in my long-standing background in a particular political party. Over the years I kept the two in check because our county government is a nonpartisan effort.

During my involvement in the Republican party in Olmsted County for nearly 25 years, I have seen and experienced many divisive issues. I have always believed that while you might lose on one issue, there are usually many more you can agree on or build a coalition on.

I am distressed about what I see happening in our state government this year. One of the key principles of the Republican Party has been the premier involvement and decision-making abilities of local government. When the current governor and Legislature were elected this year, I assumed, perhaps naively, that at least this foundation of local control and decision-making would not only remain intact, but relied upon.


In that spirit, counties were asked to come up with mandates that should/could be repealed. We did so. The issue of mandates, as you may know, is one that has long concerned local governments; funding must match the mandate or program.

The Republican Party has long dealt with resolutions regarding mandate concerns. I've heard the discussions and resolutions regarding mandate reform at every caucus and convention in my involvement since 1972. With the makeup of this year's Legislature, I thought addressing program or mandate funding would be dealt with in an appropriate fashion. Apparently not. Only a few of the mandates requested for repeal have happened. In addition, getting broad protection from the state to local governments for liability from mandates also seems doomed.

It is worth noting that the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Association of Realtors have called on the Legislature to reduce state-imposed mandates so counties can manage funding cuts and deliver services with a minimum impact on property taxes.

To quote Bill Blazar, senior vice-president of the Chamber: "The Legislature must align program cuts with budget cuts or give counties the flexibility to restructure their services."

Adding to further concern are the possibilities of extended levy limits, and reverse referendum. Suppose you lose your job or face a cutback and you need to decrease your child's allowance -- you inform your child that not only will you decrease the allowance, but that you will review every purchase your child makes and will expect continued payment for the items or services previously expected of your child. With no other source of income, where is your child supposed to turn?

Our situation is similar. Our system of balance between the levels of government is at risk, constructive partnerships are in jeopardy and representative democracy is at stake.

Paul F. Wilson of Rochester represents District 3 on the Olmsted County Board.

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