Republican Senator Gary Dahms, Redwood, and House Representative Chris Swedzinski, Ghent, were on hand at Granite Falls City Hall to discuss the 2015 legislative session with just over a dozen community members and leaders this past Thursday.

Republican Senator Gary Dahms, Redwood, and House Representative Chris Swedzinski, Ghent, were on hand at Granite Falls City Hall to discuss the 2015 legislative session with just over a dozen community members and leaders this past Thursday.

Prior to the start of the legislative session, rural Minnesota was bullish about its chances to focus legislative priorities on outstate Minnesota, at one point calling it the ‘Greater Minnesota session.

Today, assessments are far grimmer, with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) declaring it potentially one of the most disappointing legislative sessions for rural Minnesota in decades.

“With the exception of some money for nursing homes, this really could end up being a do-nothing session for Greater Minnesota,” said Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson, who also serves on the CGMC Board of Directors. “The lack of action is disappointing in any context, but when you consider that the state has a $1.9 billion surplus it is immensely frustrating that the Legislature and Governor haven’t gotten more done for our communities.”

Dahms championed the passage of a $138 million bill that looks to bring relief to rural nursing homes, but other than that there was little to point to of great significance for outstate Minnesota––including what appeared to be a token approximately $10 and $12.5 million legislative appropriation for rural broadband and transportation for cities under 5,000, respectively.

Granite Falls Hospital and Manor Administrator and CEO George Gerlach said that he is still coming to understand how the legislation will affect nursing homes, but at first glance it will bring some real and needed relief.

Mayor Dave Smiglewski, on the other hand shot down the impact of the $12.5 million in transportation funds, noting that while everything helps, the roughly $38,000 that the city would receive isn’t much when considering the cost of road projects. “It paves about a third of a block,” he said. Meanwhile, MVTV Wireless President Dan Richter, expressed a similar sentiment about the lack of impact that the current level of rural broadband funding would have in brining high-speed internet to Greater Minnesota.

“It provides very, very little of anything.” said Richter. Who said he would have like to have seen a figure in the $100 million range.

Other issues discussed was the continued lack of funding for Local Government Aid (LGA) for cities and County Program Aid (CPA). Mayor Dave Smiglewski and Yellow Medicine County Administrator Peg Heglund each spoke to the perceived lack of funding for the two aid programs, which are meant to provide funding to cities and counties to provide services.

Last year, a new LGA formula helped bring the city on par with what it received in 2002, but Smiglewski said there is still a ways to go when considering cost rising factors such as inflation.

Meanwhile, the CPA formula has remained the same, much to the chagrin of rural counties like Yellow Medicine as changes in land valuation (which have risen considerably on agricultural land) impact the county to reduce its level of CPA funding. According to Heglund, in 2003 the county received $1 million in CPA but today only receives $167,000 despite increasing number of unfunded mandates.

Heglund noted that there is little recourse for the county to raise revenue to continue providing services both existing or newly mandated without raising taxes, which invariably hits the ag-class the hardest given that ag-land constitutes just under 90 percent of the county tax base.

Lastly, farmers on hand spoke of the buffer initiative to which Dahms said that he believed the most current buffer mandates, which will require 16.5 foot buffer strips compared to the original 50 foot buffer strips, was likely the best the agricultural community could hope for.

Said Dahms, “I feel it’s as good as we’re going to get.”

The 2015 Legislature has now gone into a special session that would need to be held by June 15 in order to avoid layoff notices for public employees.