Our View: Legislative divide doesn't serve state
This week, we've highlighted three issues left unresolved during the recent legislative session. Each had supporters heading into the session, but 11 weeks later, they remained unchanged and largely unaddressed.
It leaves many throughout the state — including us — questioning the process. Even in recent days as Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders maneuver toward a possible special session, finger pointing and political motivation seem to outweigh actual progress.
Still, there's a final issue we wish would have been more openly addressed during the regular session. It's not something that likely will ever get a committee hearing or receive a vote on the House or Senate floor. It's not likely to be specifically written about within the hundreds of pages of bills generated in St. Paul.
Yet, it's an issue that seems to impact nearly every decision made at the Capitol lately.
It's the growing divide — or at least perceived divide — between rural and urban areas in the state. The divide was perhaps most seen as efforts to pass a transportation bill failed.
An effort to make way for transit funding — a topic often portrayed as metrocentric — created a roadblock jeopardizing efforts to repair and maintain roads and bridges throughout the state.
Rep. Kim Norton, a member of the House Transportation and Finance Committee, said the transit divide often centers around who's benefiting and who appears to be paying. "As I listen to the dialogue, they are very upset that it's subsidized, and it is not making money," the Rochester DFLer told us during a recent visit.
Yet, she notes a variety of amenities funded by state and other tax dollars benefit communities without 100 percent payback.
It seems to be spun for political benefit. The rural-urban divide benefits lawmakers who can convince their constituents the other side is receiving special favors. Transit has become a wedge to widen the divide.
Oddly, the transit amendment offered in the final moments of the session shouldn't have been a divide. It didn't seek to specifically spend state dollars. Rather, it sought to put control in local government's hands. "The amendment itself largely took the state out of funding light rail," House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said.
At the same time, much of the successful legislation being touted as lawmakers gear up re-election campaigns has a decidedly rural flavor, benefiting Greater Minnesota. They include a modest $20 million increase to Local Government Aid, millions in tax relief for farmers and a $35 million increase to grants to expand broadband statewide.
Additionally, while the tax bill failed to end the automatic inflator for business property taxes, it does include $146 million to exempt the first $100,000 of commercial property value, a measure offering the greatest impact for rural businesses, which frequently have lower property values.
There are always going to be bills that address needs in one part of the state more than another, but we need to remember that we are all residents of the same state. What benefits one district can benefit the state.
Lower taxes for farmers should help keep grocery prices down, and reliable transportation options will keep roads and streets safe as we travel our great state. Anything that has economic value in Minnesota, should be valued by all. Anything that lifts our state, should be supported by its residents.
We've said it before, but it deserves repeating: Life in our state is a cooperative venture. We need to make sure it works for everyone involved.