Birthday bash may lack cash

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota will commemorate its 150th year of statehood in just over two months, and the famously modest state could end up with a modest sesquicentennial celebration.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota will commemorate its 150th year of statehood in just over two months, and the famously modest state could end up with a modest sesquicentennial celebration.

It all comes down to money. The Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission, a group of 17 people including gubernatorial appointees and lawmakers from both major parties, is scrambling to raise about $1 million in private donations to fund a memorable birthday party for the state.

Though Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked lawmakers for $2 million last year to fund the year-long party, the Legislature appropriated $750,000. Nearly half of that, $325,000, went immediately to counties for local programs. Another $325,000 is earmarked for festivities at the Capitol and during the State Fair. The remaining $100,000 went to administrative costs.

Sesquicentennial Commission Executive Director Jane Leonard said that while there are many activities in the planning stages, details of each of those may need to be scaled back once the reality of the funding sets in during the next few weeks.

"Given the economic times we're in, we don't want to go overboard," Leonard said. "But people will want to take this time to celebrate our achievements and look to our future."


As Leonard put it, they'd like to have the "cherry on top, or at least the cake."

The list of proposed events is long. Statehood week includes plans for a number of entertainment stages and exhibits, a National Guard and vintage plane flyover, a commemorative stamp, a wagon train from Cannon Falls and more.

Which of these ambitious plans comes to fruition depends on more than just the challenge of raising money during a slumping economy.

Commissioner and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said in addition to being under funded, the commission has been working against the clock.

"We got a late start," he said. "And there's not the same level of excitement as there was for the centennial."

Additionally, there's stiff competition these days for charitable contributions. Influential business owners and politicians in the state are drumming up millions of local dollars to fund events surrounding the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities Sept. 1-4.

And then there's competition for people's time and attention. Statehood day - the actual 150th birthday of the state is May 11. Ring a bell? That's also Mother's Day and the fishing opener.

There is some good news on the financial front. Pawlenty has recommended the commission receive $175,000 in additional state money to help pay staff salaries and administrative costs.


Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, a sesquicentennial commissioner, is hopeful lawmakers will support the increase in funding.

"The bill is to recognize it's more difficult to raise money for staff than for projects," said Solberg. "As the saying goes, it's easy to build a church, but the pastor's salary is tougher to get money for."

Commissioners roundly commend the staff for its hard work. But some commissioners think state officials, particularly Pawlenty, could do more to promote Minnesota's birthday bash.

Commissioner and Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, said that Pawlenty has not been the kind of booster he'd like to see.

"I haven't seen that interest from his office," Betzold said. "It would have been helpful. I'd like to think when the governor gets up in the morning he says to himself, 'What can I do for my state today to make it a better place?' I don't know if that's something he did."

Lanning also expressed hope that Pawlenty would do more to promote birthday events, despite the governor's busy schedule.

Pawlenty spokesman Alex Carey said the governor has done a considerable amount on behalf of the sesquicentennial, including press conferences, and he said Pawlenty regularly features the state's 150th on his weekly radio show.

"It's not always visible, but the governor is pulling strings behind the scenes to make sure there's a celebration everyone can be proud of," Carey said.


As for state funds available for sesquicentennial planning and execution, Carey says lawmakers have only themselves to blame for slashing Pawlenty's original $2 million request down to less than half.

Marisa Helms works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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