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A Lawmaker's Response: ‘Growlers’ overlook provisions good for Duluth, greater Minnesota

A News Tribune editorial and a commentary penned by a Minnesota House member from Duluth, both published a week ago today, painted the Legislature's 2015 action with a broad brush of negativity (Our View: "Priorities, nonmetro Minnesota snubbed,"...

Tom Hackbarth
Minnesota Representative Tom Hackbarth (R) District 48A.

A News Tribune editorial and a commentary penned by a Minnesota House member from Duluth, both published a week ago today, painted the Legislature’s 2015 action with a broad brush of negativity (Our View: “Priorities, nonmetro Minnesota snubbed,” and Lawmaker’s View: “Session ends with disappointment”).
It was enough to make a reader wonder if the paper and Rep. Jennifer Schultz were under the misconception the popular Growler Bill we passed this year referred to dispositions instead of breweries.
Schultz, the News Tribune, and its readers will be pleased to learn there were many measures passed into law this year of benefit to the Duluth area and greater Minnesota. Some of that legislation came through the House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee, which I chair. Rep. Dale Lueck of Aitkin is vice chairman of that committee and continues serving as a strong voice for the people of northern Minnesota.
For example, the House Republican majority led to passage of a historic $138 million funding increase for nursing homes and care workers, along with reforms to make greater Minnesota facilities more equitable with the metro area. Another measure that passed provides more flexibility in making additional nursing home beds available where they are needed. This will help keep nursing homes open in greater Minnesota so seniors can stay closer to families while the local economy also is boosted.
The House also successfully championed extended unemployment assistance for displaced steelworkers on the Iron Range and for farmers in the outstate who suffered damage from the outbreak of avian influenza.
Another successful pro-greater Minnesota provision enacted was the result of compromise on sulfate standards after overly restrictive proposals threatened to cause even more layoffs in the mining industry. Furthermore, a new law allows taconite mining producers to renegotiate lower utility costs at a time the industry is facing the challenges of foreign steel flooding the marketplace in this country. There also were improvements regarding nonferrous metals and the dismantling of a board which had a concerning amount of sway in making decisions that should be left to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
I shared the News Tribune’s disappointment a more comprehensive transportation plan - such as the House’s proposal to put $7 billion toward roads and bridges over the next decade without raising taxes - was not enacted. On the other hand, it can be considered a victory that House Republicans prevented Democrats’ push to raise the state’s gas tax by at least 16 cents per gallon.
A transportation budget was passed and, for the first time, the state is providing funding for small cities in greater Minnesota to fix roads and bridges. In all, $12.5 million will be directed specifically toward cities with 5,000 or fewer residents. In addition, this region will receive $140 million from this year’s bonding bill for the Highway 53 relocation and bridge over the Rouchleau Pit.
The jobs and energy budget enacted this year will help greater Minnesota with $4 million for workforce housing and $10.5 million for broadband grants. Two skilled-job training programs will help train and place workers immediately in positions where the need is highest: outside the metro area.
As noted in the editorial, $4 million was approved to help Cirrus Aircraft expand in Duluth and provide more local jobs. And, through the new K-12 education budget, Duluth is getting a per-pupil increase of $373 for the biennium. Also, additional funding for facilities maintenance will help reduce funding disparities for greater Minnesota school districts and help finance the upkeep of school buildings. Streamlined licensure reform will help address teacher shortages in greater Minnesota.
Of course, there is more work to be done in 2016. Democrats stopped a tax bill that would have, among other things, ended the state’s practice of taxing Social Security income. This would have been especially beneficial to residents of greater Minnesota and should be revisited in the next session.
These are just some of the achievements from this year that benefit greater Minnesota and are worth toasting. In fact, it might warrant picking up a growler from a local Duluth brewery this Sunday. After all, that is now possible for the first time since Prohibition because of yet another accomplishment, led by the House, in 2015.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, represents District 31B in the Minnesota House.

Opinion by Rep. Tom Hackbarth
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