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Our view: Priorities, nonmetro Minnesota snubbed in legislative session

Remember way back before the legislative session even started, how this was going to be the year for nonmetro Minnesota, how the Twin Cities area had been the focus and how it was time now for the rest of the state to receive some much-needed and long-overdue legislative love? How many lawmakers ran for election or re-election on that promise?

Well, it didn’t happen.

Remember early in the 2015 Legislature, how a transportation bill was the No. 1 priority, how a financing plan to replace and repair Minnesota’s crumbling highways and bridges couldn’t be put off any longer, how this year was the year, how it had to be?

That didn’t happen either.

Remember later in the session, when the governor’s priority shifted from transportation to fully funding school for 4-year-olds, the benefits of early education unquestionable even if the governor’s plan for accomplishing it could be?

That also failed to get done.

And do you recall how lawmakers were legally obligated to pass a two-year budget?

Well, that didn’t get done either when the governor vetoed three financing bills and forced taxpayers to pay for a special session, which was held Friday to the frustration of Minnesotans from Ada to Zumbrota.

Was it any wonder state Rep. Jennifer Schultz of Duluth, in a column published elsewhere on today’s page, summed up the just-concluded 2015 Minnesota Legislature, her first, as “disappointing?” Was it any wonder she said she was “not pleased.”

Few were.

Certainly not environmentalists, who bemoaned the exempting of mining from some environmental protection provisions.

Certainly not those advocating to expand high-speed Internet deeper into rural Minnesota. The approved investment for broadband fell far short, once again, of the long-identified need for smaller communities and entrepreneurs to conduct business, no matter where they’re located.

And certainly not for people insisting on open, transparent government — which should be all of us, really. Too much negotiating happened behind closed doors and after-hours this session. Were weeks and months of public debate and testimony even considered in the end?

The news wasn’t all bad. The Legislature did provide $4 million that will help Cirrus Aircraft expand in Duluth, creating at least 150 new, good-paying jobs. Lawmakers voted to invest $525 million in early-childhood-through-12th-grade education, including new investments in American Indian education, a responsible 2 percent increase in public school funding in each of the next two years, and money to reduce the waiting list for Head Start by 1,200 eager kids. Duluth even was able to sidestep yet another political and ridiculous attempt to massively slash its Local Government Aid.

And Minnesota was able to avoid its third state government shutdown of the past decade — though that seems something that ought to be expected as the norm rather than celebrated as some sort of achievement.

So much left undone this year has left many people looking ahead. But next year’s session may be devoid of opportunity. It’s an election year, so good luck passing a transportation bill that includes any new taxes or fees. The session starts late, in March, so good luck getting to anything other than a bonding bill, which is the priority in an even-numbered year. And the Capitol remains under renovation, so good luck holding meaningful meetings or hearings in makeshift spaces.

Some suggested canceling the 2016 session due to the construction. If lawmakers did, would it be any more disappointing than this year?

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