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DFL Releases Rural Plan
by Michael Khoo
January 25, 2000
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DFL leaders in the state Senate announced their rural development agenda for the 2000 legislative session today. The Democrats' package doesn't yet have a price tag, but it's similar to a House Republican plan released last week. The main obstacle to each plan may be Governor Jesse Ventura.

WHILE THE TWIN CITIES metropolitan region topples records for economic growth, rural Minnesota often struggles to make ends meet. Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says state lawmakers need to address the growing divide between the two.
Moe: I'm afraid that continuing the way we have been going, we will have two Minnesotas. And the DFL feels strongly that we should have one Minnesota, one economy that provides opportunities for all Minnesotans regardless of where you live.
Senate Democrats are proposing immediate assistance in the form of property tax relief for Minnesota farmers, but Moe says it's premature to attach a dollar amount to the proposal. The plan also seeks money for capital investments - old-fashioned roads and bridges as well as high-tech telecommunications infrastructure. Senator Steve Kelley of Hopkins is the DFL's resident technology guru.
Kelley: If we're going to, in the knowledge age, link together the whole state, the telecommunications infrastructure is going to be as important as our highway infrastructure has been in the past. And so it's critical that the state do the kinds of de-regulation and encouraging new investment in telecommunications infrastructure everywhere in the state, so that everyone has the tools to succeed in this new economy.
Senate Democrats also want more money for rural health care, rural schools, and training programs for dislocated workers. Once again, DFLers declined to discuss a price tag, but the plan's general direction seemed in lock-step with a $75 million proposal unveiled by House Republicans last week.

Both tailor property tax relief to farmers. Both seek to develop telecommunications systems. And both call for more funding for rural schools and health care. Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, a Republican from Kenyon, says he's encouraged to see so much agreement so early. But he foresees trouble on at least one front.
Sviggum: If there's a lot of common ground, I think that's wonderful from the standpoint of being able to move forward the agenda for rural Minnesota. The problem - if I could just take a step further here - Governor Ventura has said, "No. No new supplemental appropriations. No new spending." I think what we need to do is convince the governor that there are some needs that exist and some deficiencies.
Ventura spokesman John Wodele says the governor recognizes those needs and has proposed new telecommunications and transportation initiatives with statewide benefits. Wodele also cites last year's spending increases for education. But he says Ventura is serious about holding the line in this year's non-budget session.
Wodele: This is not a budget year. Even though the Legislature, or certain members of the Legislature, maybe want to give away money in a non-budget year, it's not the way things should be done. You need to take a more comprehensive, deliberate look at how we budget and do it in a budget year. And if you can't live by that budget, then you're doing something wrong the first time. You ought to be able to set a two-year budget and live by it. And that's the governor's principle.
Senator Moe says he is aware of Ventura's principle. But he says additional appropriations may be inevitable.
Moe: The governor certainly has the right to say, "No supplemental budget." But my guess is that he will have a supplemental budget. He might call it something else. We feel that there are some legitimate investments that should be made today. There are some legitimate needs that the state has. There are some legitimate tax areas for tax relief. And we're going to be looking at all of them.
Moe says DFL leaders will flesh out their proposal, including cost figures, after February budget forecasts are released.