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A focus on 'the big three': Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities to focus on transportation, taxes and bonding in 2017

BEMIDJI—The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities are ready for another legislative session in St. Paul with the hope of accomplishing what was left unfinished in 2016.

During a press conference call Thursday, coalition lobbyist and former state representative Marty Seifert outlined the strategy for the 2017 session, with major focuses on a tax bill, a bonding bill and transportation funding.

Seifert said the 2016 election was a "rejection of business as usual," with much of Greater Minnesota frustrated by the lack of completion on major legislation in the previous few years.

Thursday's conference followed a pair of announcements from Gov. Mark Dayton, who introduced both his bonding and tax legislation proposals. According to a press release, the governor's tax bill provides $300 million in tax cuts and aid payments to local governments for more than 450,000 Minnesotans.

Dayton's bonding bill, meanwhile, totals at $1.5 billion with funding for multiple projects across the state. Regionally, the proposal includes $14 million to finish projects at Red Lake's early childhood center and elementary school as well as $18.8 million to replace the BSU Hagg-Sauer building for a new Academic Learning Center.

Regarding the latter, the current Hagg-Sauer Hall is 45-years-old and BSU administration is requesting to replace the 82,000 square-foot structure with a 25,000 square-foot building. Along with replacing a building that's sustained water damage and lacking proper accommodation for students with disabilities, the new structure would improve the student experience and reduce energy costs, according to BSU staff.

The governor's proposal also includes dollars to fund about half of a project for a new Northern Dental Access Center building. The dental center has outgrown its current location and is looking to launch a project for a new building at a cost of $9 million. The dollar amount includes $6 million for the new building and $3 million for equipment and contingency funds.

Also included in the governor's proposal was $1.1 million for repair and renovations at Northwest Technical College and BSU.

Coalition officials also said Thursday that they will push for $167 million for water treatment facilities in Minnesota through the bonding bill.

For tax legislation, the coalition said it will focus on increases in the base appropriation for local government aid. In the governor's proposal, there is a $20 million increase, mirroring the 2016 proposal.

However, Bradley Peterson, another lobbyist for the coalition, said the goal is a $45 million increase, returning the amount to where it was in 2002.

"It's the next step in restoring this important program," Peterson said. "Last time the state funded the LGA, cities were able to do a lot of good things with it. Not only did they catch up on some deferred maintenance on streets and parks, they also invested in student resource officers, libraries and clean water infrastructure. They're able to invest in all things that are critical in building strong, healthy, vibrant communities where people want to live and do business."

For transportation, Peterson said the coalition will push for $369 million for the state's Corridors of Commerce program, which is used to reduce bottlenecks and barriers to freight on state highways. Additionally, the coalition plans to support $50 million, divided equally between cities with more than and less than 5,000 people, for street repairs.

Economic development

Along with the three main subjects in this year's session, though, Peterson said the coalition will also be supporting legislation to advance business and economic development outside the metro area.

"We're working with the Greater Minnesota Partnership, a group of economic development associations, chamber of commerce offices and more, with a focus on workforce housing," Peterson said. "We had a tax credit introduced last time aimed at meeting a critical need in Greater Minnesota, which is a shortage of affordable housing for people who're earning a living."

Another plan Peterson said is supporting legislation related to the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant Program, a government operation helping to pay for public infrastructure related to business expansion. According to Peterson, many communities utilize the program to create business and/or industrial parks.

In 2017, Peterson said Dayton has included $21 million for the program in his proposals, the most a governor has included. Peterson said the coalition will also work on bills related to improving job training and internship opportunities.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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