CITY COUNCIL: Saxhaug reflects on legislative work in 2014; Council grills him on “800-pound gorilla” of transportation funding
BEMIDJI -- Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, detailed to the Bemidji City Council on Monday what the Minnesota Legislature accomplished this year -- but he also took flak on the lack of a transportation funding bill.
This year's session began Feb. 25 and ended Friday -- earlier than scheduled, Saxhaug noted.
"It's the first time that anybody around the Capitol could remember that (the session finished early), for a long, long time," he said.
Saxhaug recalled a bill to give $20 million in state funds to low-income energy assistance in response to this winter's propane crisis -- the first bill of 2014 to become law, and one Saxhaug himself authored. Saxhaug also noted $50,000 in appropriations for the Headwaters Science Center, and $13.9 million in bonding funds for BSU campus renovations.
The Legislature also put forward money for communities to study the need for housing for veterans in their area: $250,000 toward at least five grants of up to $50,000 each. Saxhaug told the council it was likely Bemidji would get one of the grants.
However, Saxhaug took some heat from council members and city staff on the failure of the Legislature to get a major transportation funding bill passed this session.
Bemidji Mayor Albrecht said the Legislature needed to step up and get a bill passed. She said it was difficult for cities to adequately fund their own infrastructure projects through local referendum tax increases, which aren't easy to pass.
"I really believe the state chamber needs to take a lead on this," she said.
City Attorney Al Felix pointed out the frustration of staff members from fellow communities in the League of Minnesota Cities on the lack of progress at the Capitol
"It's not moving; year after year after year," Felix said of the transportation issue. "Someone's got to take it as a cause, and hopefully that maybe comes from up here."
Saxhaug acknowledged transportation was "one of the most important things left to do" and the lack of a bill was "embarrassing."
He said the biggest sticking point was finding funds for the bill, specifically, what form of tax increase would be the mechanism to pay for it.
"It's kind of the 800-pound gorilla that we didn't deal with this year," he said of the ever-elusive bill. "We're going to have to deal with it at some point, no question."
Although Saxhaug said he supports the idea of a transportation bill, he acknowledged that he shared in the Legislature's failure to get one passed.
"You're kind of preaching to the choir here," Saxhaug told the council. "But I didn't do the job, so it's worthy of comment, for sure."
Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, was also scheduled to provide the council with a recap Monday but was out of town.