Publisher’s Perspective

By Tim Douglass, Publisher of the Pope County Tribune

With all that is going on in the state, including the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the pandemic and the loss of jobs due to that pandemic, it seems our legislature could have done something more when it convened in June for a special session.

The State Legislature met in a special session from June 12-20. Among the tasks completed were passage of bipartisan legislation that did not pass in time for the end of the regular session. There was expectation of a bonding bill, which might include support for the Conservation Reserve and Enhancement Program (CREP) and other drinking water and wastewater projects, but a bonding bill did not come up for a vote in either house.

An omnibus environmental finance bill passed out of committee but did not come to a vote in the House, and there was no Senate companion. This bill included the recommendations of the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). One bill that did pass was a one-year extension for projects funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

There was no agreement on police reform, on an all-important bonding bill or on local government aid distribution. Any one of those items should have been completed quickly, It just didn’t seem that this special session a the time for partisan bickering.

But it was.

So we hope the Legislature is called into session once again  to do those things.  If the governor continues to extend emergency powers to address COVID-19, the Legislature would need to convene again in July.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tim Walz did move to send out $841 million in federal aid to the counties, cities and townships hit hard by COVID-19 after legislators failed to strike a deal to distribute the funds during the special session.  The legislature adjourned while at a partisan impasse on police reform.  Instead of adjourning, they should have moved on to accomplish other needs, like the distribution of local government aid from the federal government.  At least the governor accomplished that and did it on the basis already agreed upon by legislative leaders.

Under that plan, local goverments will get a direct portion of the funding based on population.  The plan was approved by a legislative commission, and the funding should start coming to local governments–cities and counties–by the first weeks of July.

That is welcome news.

In that plan, the city of Glenwood would receive about $193,850.  Starbuck would receive $97,189 and Lowry would receive $23,355.  Long Beach would be receiving about $26,068 and Villard would receive $19,136.

Communities can’t use the money simply to replace lost revenue, but they can use it to fill the holes in their budgets caused by unexpected spending arising from the pandemic.

The money for both the counties and cities is important because local governments set their budges for 2020 last fall, long before they knew anything about the effects of the pandemic in Minnesota.  Most cities and counties had to alter or modify their operations, purchase equipment, redeploy staff, close offices and do a myriad of other things while maintaining essential services throughout.

That’s why this aid from the federal Cares Act needed to get to cities and counties on a timely basis.