Duluth pieces together ambitious request for state aid

City leaders outlined their top priorities and a host of other objectives.

SS Alpena travels under the Aerial Lift Bridge
The SS Alpena travels through the Duluth Entry and under the Aerial Lift Bridge on Thursday morning. Duluth will seek state support to maintain and upgrade the historic bridge as one of its top priorities this coming legislative session.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — With Minnesota’s next legislative session just around the corner, the city has been putting together its wish list.

Earlier this week, the City Council approved a couple of resolutions laying out its objectives, as lawmakers convene in St. Paul on Jan. 3. City administration has identified four top priorities, confirmed by a unanimous vote of the council Monday:

  • Increased Local Government Aid funding.
  • Support for improvements and upgrades at the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area.
  • State bond funds to maintain and improve Aerial Lift Bridge systems.
  • Matching funds to leverage federal support for the construction of the Northern Lights Express passenger rail service between the Twin Ports and the Twin Cities.

“Every single one of these, if they were funded on day one, are ready to go," Mayor Emily Larson said. "There are plans to implement them.”

Skiers and snowboarders use the Lone Oak Rope Park at Spirit Mountain on March 21, 2021. The city of Duluth will seek funding for capital improvements at Spirit Mountain when the Minnesota Legislature convenes Jan. 3.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

She said many of the projects are carryover requests from the previous session, when the Legislature failed to put together a bonding bill.

“The golden opportunity that we have to make Minnesota an even better and fairer and more inclusive and more prosperous state is there,” said DFL Gov. Tim Walz. Legislative Republicans said the growing record surplus is a sign the state needs tax relief. Incoming House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth called the surplus "jaw-dropping."

Sam Richie, Duluth’s lead lobbyist and an attorney with the Fryberger Law Firm, noted that after four straight years of a divided Legislature, the DFL party now has majorities in both the House and Senate, as well as control of the governor’s seat.


“The DFL is going to be in total control of the levers of state government,” said Richie, while also observing the party has a very narrow one-member advantage in the Senate, potentially making it difficult to maneuver.

Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, will lead what the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party says is the "most diverse Senate caucus in Minnesota history" when the party takes complete control over state government at the beginning of 2023.

The record $17.6 billion surplus Minnesota is running could also bode well for Duluth’s legislative prospects, Richie said.

One of the key indicators could be what local projects are included in Gov. Tim Walz’s budget, slated to be released Jan. 24.

“We’re going to see his agency priorities in that document, and that will give kind of guideposts for the House and Senate as they assemble their budgets through the committee process,” Richie said.

Traditionally, this would be a budget year for the Minnesota Legislature, and not time for a bonding bill. But Richie said consternation over the lack of a bonding bill last year could prompt action.

“There’s been a great deal of talk about the need to right that wrong and the potential to perhaps do a bonding bill in a budget year but maybe early in the session, as well,” Richie said.

For years, the Northern Lights Express rail project has failed to gain traction in the Minnesota Legislature, largely due to GOP opposition.

As for local government aid, Richie said that formula is typically re-examined and adjusted about every 10 years and is due for review.

A second resolution passed by the council Monday outlined additional legislative goals the city supports but may not necessarily be taking a lead role in seeking at this time. Larson said the city will use its lobbying strength behind these requests, as well, but likely won’t devote quite as much time and energy to them.


That longer lists includes:

  • Support of the proposed Minnesota Health Plan.
  • Funding for neighborhood community centers, such as the Spirit Valley Center for Youth and Community Wellness.
  • Support for infrastructure and planning at the Great Lakes Aquarium.
  • A reduction in the class tax rate impacting the net tax capacity of parcels near Duluth International Airport to stimulate economic development.
  • Funds for dredging and to stand up a U.S. Customs facility that will support the development of greater cruise ship activity.
  • Aid to facilitate the redevelopment of Duluth’s waterfront Lot D.
  • Bond funding for the Port Development Assistance Program.
  • Bond funds to support the redevelopment of the Duluth Armory building.
  • Funding to encourage film, television and music production in the state.
  • Additional support for library programming and infrastructure.
  • Assistance to help cover the cost of removing and replacing lead water service lines.
  • Funding to support the development of plans for the future configuration of the section of Minnesota Highway 61 that runs through downtown Duluth.
  • Funds to improve access to high-speed affordable broadband services throughout the state.
  • Aid to help cover the cost of removing and replacing trees infested with emerald ash borers and to develop uses for the wood waste.
  • A statewide policy requiring employer to provide workers with earned sick and safe time.
  • A renewal of Duluth’s half-percent tourism tax to support capital improvements to city parks and recreational facilities.
  • Funding to support local human rights offices.
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Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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