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Political Notebook: Kelly prepares to lead on transportation

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Tim Kelly
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There's been plenty of talk heading into the 2015 legislative session that addressing the state's crumbling transportation infrastructure will be a priority. Turns out a southeastern Minnesota lawmaker will play a key role in those efforts.

Red Wing Republican Rep. Tim Kelly was recently named chairman of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee. Kelly, who recently won election to a fourth term, is somewhat of a surprise pick for the post because he had not been serving on the transportation committee. But Kelly said in a lot of ways his selection makes sense.

"Where I sit, just from a district perspective, we've got rail lines, we've got freight, we've got major highways, we've got an airport, we've got a river. When you think about it, it's smack dab in the middle of every form of transportation we utilize," the Red Wing Republican said.

In addition, he said he lives close enough to the metro area to understand some of the issues there. That's important, Kelly said, because rural and urban lawmakers are going to have to be willing to work together to get a comprehensive transportation funding package passed.

"We still have to work together as a state, as opposed to outstate versus metro," he said.

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In addition, Kelly said he believes he's developed a reputation as someone who is willing to work across the aisle and "listen first, react later."

Kelly acknowledged it's not going to be easy. Still, he said he sees a path for success if lawmakers decide to focus on funding roads and bridges. As part of that work, he said lawmakers need to take another look at the state's current gas tax funding method since there are more fuel-efficient cars on the roadway. One option to consider might be to allow more bonding dollars to be spent on transportation. As for a Dayton's suggestion that a tax on gas at the wholesale level be considered, Kelly said he doesn't see that idea going anywhere.

He added, "I don't thing there's going to be much appetite for that."

Human rights office in Rochester?

During a community meeting Thursday sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, some residents suggested it might be time for the state to consider opening a human rights office in Rochester.

Kolloh Nimley, with the Council on Black Minnesotans, said the community is not equipped to handle the explosive growth expected to come with Mayo Clinic's 20-year expansion as part of Destination Medical Center.

"We don't want to lose who we are just because we have this development here," she said.

Resident Jackie Johnson said she is also deeply concerned that minority residents are being left out of the economic boom in Rochester. She said the Rochester City Council needs to do more to hire construction companies that have a diverse workforce.

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"My concern is when they come to the city council to ask for these permits to build these different facilities they are building, the city council should question the makeup of the construction company before the permits are given," Johnson said. "Rochester is in a boom, and the money that's out there should be equalized."

Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said his office has talked with the governor's staff about possibly opening satellite human rights offices in the state. Ultimately, it will be up to the governor to decide whether he wants to include such a proposal in his budget and if lawmakers support the idea. As for Destination Medical Center, he said his office has been trying to connect DMC officials with others who have expertise crafting equity plans. That includes the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is in charge of building the new Vikings stadium.

In July, the Rochester City Council approved requirements for including businesses owned by women and minorities in Destination Medical Center public infrastructure projects. The statute says the city "must make every effort to hire and cause the construction manager and any subcontractors to employ women and members of minority communities."

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