Monday, January 25, 2010

Pawlenty Priority : Lake Vacation over City Water

“Imagine a typical Minnesota kitchen table. A mom and dad have just tucked the kids into bed with a kiss and a prayer, and they come back to the table to confront economic reality.
On the table are bills, notices and a notepad with a budget that’s tighter than it’s ever been. Hope and fear are also at the table.
How do we pay these bills? How do we fix the car? How do we pay this mortgage? How are we going to afford college or even retire someday?
The couple at the kitchen table begin by setting priorities.
What’s most important?
What can we afford?
What do we give up?
How can we do things different? ”

– Governor Tim Pawlenty, January 15, 2009 State of the State Address

Pawlenty’s analogy seems most appropriate today as the State is facing another fiscal crisis … which has seemed to be the norm during his “no tax increase” tenure.
So, why is the Governor advocating acquiring land for a state park at Lake Vermilion ?
The upfront cost : $18 million cash from the State plus a couple more million dollars in tax “donations” for US Steel.
Then development of infrastructure like roads, water, and a visitor center will cost $25 million to 30 million.
The alternative : The St. Louis County Commission has already zoned for housing development, which is expected to result in 63 lakeshore homes and another 82 inland.
The net impact to the County is a loss of property tax dollars …. and construction of those homes would mean JOBS.
Worse yet, this investment that does not meet the “kitchen table” test.

While every family may dream of a lakefront vacation home, the first priority is to your existing home … and Minnesota’s infrastructure is aging and needing upgrades.
That’s where the priority needs to be. Especially if your “kitchen table” is in Backus, Biwabik, Chisholm, Duluth, Eveleth, Gilbert, Hamburg, Hibbing, Mora, North Branch, Vernon Center, Waldorf, Willmar or any of the more than 30 communities that submitted requests for funding through the bonding proposal for the 2010 legislative session.

Oh, sure the Governor did suggest a “financially responsible bonding proposal” valued at $815 million bonding bill.
Yes, there was $75 million for local bridges, providing the state portion of funding to replace approximately 960 bridges during the 2010-11 construction season but there were also $74 million in requests by MN-DOT that were denied.

Just as the Governor set priorities for the Transportation funding, he also set funding for other areas … areas that have definite “kitchen table” impact. There were over $60 million dollars requested for wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) and Inflow & Infiltration (I&I) Abatement projects … and just like Transportation funding requests, he denied many communities the funding they need.

Governor Pawlenty express a concern that communities must not be looking for "state funding ALL these local projects", without acknowledging that many of these projects have 50% of the funding being generated by the local community ... from taxpayer's fees.

Big towns … medium-sized towns … small towns … what they have in common is disappointment … and their failure to act can have an impact on other communities throughout the state.

No doubt complaints will come again from Duluth’s Chamber of Commerce as once again the City of Duluth $8.5 million request to build sanitary sewer overflow tanks to prevent sewer runoff from flowing into Lake Superior was denied.

The Governor denied the City of Willmar request of $20 million in state funding for the relocation of its wastewater treatment facility (WWTF). This project supports national USEPA goal to improve water quality in the Mississippi River by reducing levels of ammonia and phosphorus within the watershed. Willmar's wastewater treatment facility has been highly ranked on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's priority list. The existing WWTF is the second highest point source contributor of phosphorus (14%) to the Minnesota River. The existing WWTF does not have the technology to remove or treat for phosphorus. The new WWTF will contain the technology needed to reduce the levels of phosphorus discharged by 90 percent, thereby improving water quality to the lower Minnesota River watershed at Shakopee. This will also help improve the water quality as the Minnesota River drains to the Mississippi River and will help reduce the overall phosphorus loading to Lake Pepin.

Small town, Waldorf in Waseca County requested $650,000 in state funding to implement an inflow and infiltration (I&I) abatement program to correct its on-going sewer I&I problem. The community’s wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) was constructed in 1947. The Little Cobb River is the discharge point for effluent from the WWTF, and eventually flows into the Minnesota River through the Big Cobb, Le Sueur, and Blue Earth Rivers.

Failure to get state funding will mean that water quality will be affected ... which will only make those communities less desirable for businesses to operate there ... much less encouraging people to live there. Thus it isn’t just the “kitchen tables” in those communities but water quality will be affected at “kitchen tables” whereever the rivers flow.

The work that needs to be done is essential. The investment would mean JOBS and communities that are more attractive for new business to locate there.

Governor Pawlenty is not setting priorities correctly ... this waste of taxpayer dollars should be an affront to MN-GOPers as well as DFLers.
Pawlenty needs to ask himself those “kitchen tables” questions :
What’s most important? (a new state park or clean water?)
What can we afford? ($50 million for a park plus ongoing maintenance costs for the park or modernizing over 40 communitites thoroughout the state?)
What do we give up? (Give up the lakefront property that most Minnesotans will never visit or water that we drink daily?)

Pawlenty may consider a new Lake Vermilion State Park as his legacy, but his legacy will be one who neglected infrastucture investments.

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