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Legislators meet with county board

Fri, Jan 18th, 2008
Posted in Government

Rep. Ken Tschumper, Sen. Sharon Ropes and County Board chair Randy Dahl listen during a meeting between area legislators and the Fillmore County board on Tuesday, January 15.

Area Representatives Jeanne Poppe and Ken Tschumper, along with Senators Sharon Ropes and Dan Sparks, met with Fillmore County commissioners on Tuesday, January 15, to discuss upcoming bonding priorities for the 2008 Minnesota legislative session which convenes on February 12, 2008.

Governor Tim Pawlenty is proposing a $1.09 billion bonding bill, of which $965 billion would be financed through general obligation bonds. Nearly 40 percent ($416 million; 38.3%) of the funds would be used for transportation, mainly roads and bridges, with higher education using up 38.3 percent ($258 million) and environmental projects 16 percent ($175 million).

County commissioners and department heads raised a number of issues with legislators:

• Transportation: Highway Engineer John Grindeland told legislators that the "best package" for roads and bridges, which included a 5¢ gas tax, got vetoed last year.

"We need consistent funding that doesn't put the state in debt for the next 25 years," Grindeland said. He also recommended that Chief Deputy and Chief Engineer positions within MnDOT be filled by licensed engineers.

There was considerable discussion by legislators about the deteriorating roads and bridges including the condition of Hwy 52 between Fountain and I-90.

Rep. Ken Tschumper told the group that the "infrastructure is crumbling around our ears" and put the blame on the governor for not working with the legislature.

On Hwy. 52, Tschumper thought that the overlay that is planned is about the best that can be hoped for. "The plan is for a five inch bituminous overlay, with a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years," Tschumper said. He didn't think a re-alignment of the right of way would be possible.

This prompted Commissioner Chuck Amenrud to ask, "How can we have Zero Deaths as a goal with these roads?"

Sen. Sharon Ropes said, "The 5¢ a gallon gas tax that the governor vetoed (2007) was a bipartisan effort. The conflict is between the governor and the legislature, not Democrats and Republicans."

"The governor's bonding bill is a band aid at best," Sen. Dan Sparks said.

Rep. Poppe reminded others that the governor's proposal for local roads and bridges contained an "if" clause, where counties and cities would need to put in a funding match for their local share.

• Health: Increase funds to the Minnesota Vaccines for Children program which is being reduced by the state. Sharon Serfling, county Public Health Director, said that with the county's large Amish population, it is important that this program continue.

• Solid Waste: Only half of the Solid Waste Management tax is sent back to counties to support recycling efforts. Solid Waste Administrator Jon Martin supported keeping 100% of the tax at the county level.

Martin also recommended legislation that would require manufacturers and retailers to share the responsibility for electronic waste, such as televisions and computers, at the point of purchase.

• Soil & Water: Fillmore County Soil & Water Conservation District director Kevin Kuehner called for more funding to support upland soil conservation given the recent flooding. He also asked that more be done about floodplain mapping.

Water Coordinator Donna Rasmussen said that there needs to be long-term funding of the Clear Water Legacy Act. Rasmussen distributed a handout that showed the number of short-term grants the county has received to carry out this work.

The four legislators, all of whom are Democrats, spoke about the pressing needs state-wide. A recent Senate seat election gave the Democrats a veto-proof Senate, but the house does not have enough seats to vote for an over-ride of a governor veto.

Rep. Poppe reminded commissioners that a deficit is being projected with the latest budget forecast, concluding that they will all need to work together to get things done.

"The last time there was a deficit, the legislature made rule changes to cut money," County Board chair Randy Dahl recalled. "This time, don't change the rules, just cut the money."

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