All 87 counties support MAGIC Act

Joe Vene announced Tuesday that all 87 Minnesota counties have signed on to support the MAGIC Act. Vene, a Beltrami County commissioner, announced the update while the county board met with three local legislators to discuss the current legislati...

Joe Vene announced Tuesday that all 87 Minnesota counties have signed on to support the MAGIC Act.

Vene, a Beltrami County commissioner, announced the update while the county board met with three local legislators to discuss the current legislative session.

"I think it's significant," Vene said of the counties' unanimous support.

The Minnesota Accountable Government, Innovation and Collaboration Act is a bill that would redesign the relationship between the counties and state of Minnesota. It allows counties more ability to initiate projects that are more outcome-based.

Tony Murphy, county administrator, described to legislators a recent problem in Beltrami County that outlines what MAGIC intends to fix.


Beltrami County uses outcome-based contracts doing business with chemical-dependency-treatment providers since the county pays 22.95 percent of the costs. The county tallies with providers the numbers of users who stay sober after treatment, such as at six months and 12 months after treatment is completed.

"We wanted to make sure the service-delivery arms were actually producing results," Murphy said.

But then, he said, the federal government told the states that it did not want counties and American Indian tribes negotiating directly with providers. The contracts now are done by the state, which does not use outcome-based contracting and charges a uniformed rate to all providers, Murphy said.

The state never sought a waiver or took steps to fight the mandate, Murphy told legislators. "You just kind of rolled over and said, 'If that's what you want.'"

Beltrami County "kind of ignored" the new rules and continued operating as before, but one provider complained to the state, which now is ordering the Beltrami County to stop contracting with providers, Murphy said.

"We're in a pickle. We believe in the outcomes," he said, noting that the county still pays about 23 percent of the costs. "That's just the opposite direction of where we want to be going."

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, is the chief author of the MAGIC Act bill in the Senate. He noted that it passed in the Senate on a 62-1 vote.

"This is a classic example of the counter-intuitiveness of not going to the MAGIC Act," Vene said.


Bonding bill

This year is a bonding bill year and each legislator offered his prediction of what it will total and will include.

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said he anticipates that the bonding bill will end up in the $400 million to $750 million range.

He said that he expects other matters to be considered, such as the MAGIC Act, but that the bonding bill will be the focus of the session.

"I think for this year if we can get a bonding bill passed and maybe do a few reform initiatives ... I would probably consider that a successful year," he said.

Carlson said he would guess the bonding bill will end up between $500 million and $550 million.

He expects that bonding projects will include infrastructure needs, such as roads and bridges.

"I don't think we're going to be seeing a lot of local projects," he said. "Just fixing things that need fixing."


Thus, he did not believe that Beltrami County's request for bonding to improve the Eckles Recreation Area, formerly known as Shooting Sports Park, will get far. Carlson said his goal this year is to have the request heard during a hearing.

"It's a local project that's not going to be included," he said. "But we'll raise awareness."

Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, said he expects the bonding bill to be right around $500 million.


All three legislators also discussed the Department of Natural Resources proposal for a fall wolf-hunting and trapping season.

The DNR in January suggested that hunters and trappers could take 400 wolves with the season starting in late November and closing once the quota is reached.

Carlson said critics will say that the DNR is being too conservative, but he agrees that the state needs to be cautious.

"We really need to follow the DNR's lead on this," he said.

The season would mark the first time in more than 35 years that wolves could be taken legally in Minnesota. Wolves were listed on the federal Endangered Species list in 1974.

"We want to make sure the management of the wolf stays within Minnesota," Hancock said.

Invasive species

A "huge issue" facing legislators and Minnesota will concern aquatic invasive species, Skoe said.

"It's extremely difficult to stop these things," he said.

Minnesota waterways are becoming plagued by invasive species such as Asian carp, faucet snail, Eurasian milfoil and more.

"You're not going to stop it," Carlson said.

Carlson said the state needs to invest in a world-class research center that would work on solutions and the University of Minnesota is an ideal place for such a center.

"I think we'll make incremental progress this year," Skoe said. "But, like John said, this is going to go on for a number of years."

Property taxes

Quentin Fairbanks, Beltrami County commissioner, asked legislators if there was any chance of rescinding the Market Value Homestead Exclusion, which last year replaced the Market Value Homestead Credit.

The credit reduced the amount of property taxes due while the exclusion reduced the value of a property before taxes are calculated.

This resulted in a tax shift that, for many property owners, resulted with property tax increases.

Carlson said he has heard different opinions about the change, mainly that legislators should quit messing with the system. He said he believes the exclusion itself, which offered a tax break to lower-valued homesteads, was the problem and that it should have been dropped.

Hancock said that in 9 of 10 years, the credit system was not fully funded.

"To me that's a program that doesn't work," he said. "Let's find a program that does work."

But Skoe said the credit system was working.

"It is apparent to me that it was working because when it was eliminated you were looking at the significant increases that we're talking about," he said.

Skoe said the change hurt rural cities.

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