Our View: One more lobbying run to St. Paul
Time is running out and the to-do list remains ambitious and long. So, this morning, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson plans to climb into her car for one more lobbying trip to St. Paul, her 15th this session of the Minnesota Legislature.
Topping her "all things Duluth" list of priorities, she said in a note Monday to the News Tribune Opinion page, is winning legislative approval for a half-percent sales tax to raise $7 million a year to fix Duluth's streets. Duluth voters overwhelmingly supported creating the new tax last fall; it passed every precinct in the city and won 76.5 percent of the vote. Duluthians are eager to see their streets fixed.
"I have been meeting with leaders in both parties and in both chambers of the House and Senate since the first of the year to advance this sustainable, community-supported funding source," Larson said. "Last week we had a hearing in the Senate Tax Committee. A few weeks back we had one in the House. We have a bill to support this sales tax, and it is well-positioned to be successful. ... My goal is to ensure that the will of our electorate is supported by the legislative process."
The mayor also testified this session for a bill to support needed upgrades at the Verso paper mill in West Duluth. Getting this measure to the finish line also is a top priority to help ensure the future of a major Duluth employer and our local economy.
"Gov. (Mark) Dayton has personally invested significant time and attention to this opportunity, and we are also working closely with Verso to see this funding request be supported," Larson said.
A medical district bill is also on the mayor's lobbying list. It would help foster "an exemplary private-public partnership" as St. Luke's and Essentia both plan major expansions that will need major public infrastructure investments.
"We are excited about what this level of investment and collaboration can mean for Duluth," the mayor said.
Bonding projects also are in need of a final-week push. (The session ends Monday, and the governor has declared there'll be no special session.) Those projects include seawall repairs in Duluth; completing a conversion of the Duluth Steam Plant to a more-efficient, greener, closed-loop hot-water system; repairs and renovations at Glensheen; ongoing maintenance work on college campuses, including Lake Superior College and the University of Minnesota Duluth; accessibility improvements at Jay Cooke State Park; and more.
In addition, Lake Superior Zoo is looking for $1.9 million for a new "Bear Country" exhibit as it continues to recover from the devastating flood of 2012.
The Legislature this session also was tasked with fixing the state's broken vehicle-licensing software, protecting seniors in care facilities, boosting local government aid, aligning Minnesota's tax code with federal reforms, restricting the use of cell phones while driving, and more.
"Our hard-working delegation has been focused, efficient, and great to partner with," Mayor Larson said. "The governor and his team have been thorough, reliable, and very responsive."
But the to-do list remains lengthy — can't-get-it-all-done lengthy, perhaps. And only a handful of days remains in the session. So the mayor's latest lobbying trip has to be a successful one.