It’s hard to keep quiet this time of the year when our legislative representatives and senators are in session in St. Paul. I’ve already written plenty about the lack of transportation funding and some of the other needs that hit Greater Minnesota particularly hard. Several other issues deserve a good look, as well. There are plenty of things that the legislature can do to bring more prosperity to Minnesota. There’s also plenty of disagreement about which of those should be funded and which should be set aside or even scuttled.
Minnesota has the good fortune of being one of the only states in the Midwest that has a budget surplus. That didn’t happen by accident. Fiscal prudence and smart tax policy led to this and helped the state plan for the inevitable ups and downs of future economic times. It’s strange then that there is so much disagreement about what to fund and how to fund it. There are plenty of existing state services and programs that need funding. These are programs and services that we all need and that make Minnesota the great state that it is. Why, then, is it so hard to agree on what to fund and how much to spend?
The legislature’s current tactic of pitting Metro-area interests against Greater Minnesota interests brings almost nothing to the table except a feeling that government doesn’t work, which seems to be the ultimate goal. It’s strange then that those same folks want so badly to be the ones in charge of the very government that they seem to loathe and seem bent on making dysfunctional. It appears that they plan to starve program after program, even if it takes away many things that most Minnesotans like and need. Smart and timely investments in many different areas of our state will ensure that Minnesota moves ahead in sound fashion and that our state is in a good position to succeed and thrive, whether we live in rural areas or in the Twin Cities.
With a budget surplus, it seems like a no-brainer, after many years of funding decreases, to increase the state’s funding for Higher Education. This is something that touches nearly every corner of the state and is an investment in our citizens that helps to ensure a well-trained and successful workforces for the coming years. That particularly touches home right here at our local Minnesota West campus and at the other nearby Minnesota West campuses in Canby, Marshall and Willmar.
I was surprised to read that Minnesota is spending less on Higher Education, per student, than most of its neighbors, many of whom have far fewer resources. According to a story in the Star Tribune, Wisconsin spends $12,432 per student, North Dakota and Nebraska spend nearly $7,800. Kansas spends $6,700 per student and Iowa spends $5,590 per student. In Minnesota? Well, we’re at a very weak $3,876 per Higher Ed student. It seems like we could, and should, finally be budgeting more state support for this critical area. Doing so could help stop increases in tuition or even lower tuition, which would help students to be better able to afford access to college and technical education and the training that we need them to have in order to help ensure a successful future economy.
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Another state-funded area that hits close to home is the lack of necessary funding for operating our wonderful state parks and trails. Without even a slight boost in funding, several state parks, including our nearby Upper Sioux Agency State Park, are at risk for a decline of services including the possible closure of camping. Upper Sioux Agency State Park, at a drop-dead gorgeous location where the Yellow Medicine River flows into the Minnesota River Valley also is a significant state-wide historic site and can be an anchor to our area’s growth as a recreation and tourism destination.
However, that can’t happen without sufficient funding to keep a full complement of park facilities and services open. The legislature has a chance to enact a slight increase in state park permit fees, along with hunting and fishing license fees, all of which go to support DNR activities that make the outdoors and outdoor activities more available and accessible. Modest state park fee increases shouldn’t be too controversial especially when there are obvious needs and a lot of interest in using the parks. I read recently that daily permit sales at the parks, state wide, were up 34 percent in the past five years.
Even more impressive is the fact that last year, the number of camping permits issued for Upper Sioux Agency State Park more than doubled. That fact alone should be enough evidence to increase the funding which would avoid closing campgrounds at the park. It’s proposed that daily permit fees for the state parks should be increased from $5 to $6 and that annual permits should be increased from $25 to $30. These increases, and the additional funding they would provide, are widely supported by parks and trails advocates from all around the state.
This too seems like a no-brainer. Still, some legislators are reluctant to increase the price on anything, even something like park fees, which are truly a user fee, and supported by park users. You can find out some more about all of this by joining other folks at the annual meeting of the Friends for Upper Sioux Agency State Park on Sunday April 23 at 1:30 p.m. That brief meeting, which happens at the park’s visitor center, will be followed by a short, guided, nature hike at 2:30 p.m. The hike, which will last around an hour, will be a great way to spend a bit of time outdoors in one of the most beautiful spots in our part of the state. Annual and daily State Park permits will be available for sale along with Upper Sioux Agency State Park T-shirts, sweatshirts and other unique park souvenirs. Purchasing permits at the park will help bolster the cause for keeping camping open and other park services available through the season.