Layman advocates for broadband, Line 3 and roads
This session, I'm privileged to serve on the Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division. This assignment provides me the opportunity to advocate for infrastructure and other improvements to continue developing the economies in our area and other rural parts of the state.
One of the most significant issues this committee addresses is the need for broadband expansion in Greater Minnesota. Recently, we heard legislation I'm championing to provide increased funding for our state's border-to-border broadband program, which funds broadband expansion to unserved or underserved parts of the state.
This bipartisan bill would provide $70 million over the next two years for critical broadband infrastructure in rural Minnesota. I successfully amended this bill to ensure it would also provide more immediate funding by allocating $15 million for broadband improvements in 2019.
This $15 million is now a part of this bill, which the House majority and governor indicate is a priority.
Although I hoped legislators could agree on a much larger number, the broadband legislation I authored last year that passed and was sent to the governor would have provided this $15 million for 2019. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by then-Gov. Dayton - and this funding was lost.
By pursuing this extra $15 million again this year, I'm looking to restore that lost funding.
Broadband's importance to our area cannot be overstated. Access to quality broadband is a critical infrastructure need for rural communities across the state. Put simply, broadband allows us to be connected to the world. Its expansion will help small businesses grow, allow folks to work from home, and expand educational opportunities in rural schools.
The countless constituents I've heard from and the energized groups visiting the Capitol clearly demonstrate the strong grassroots support for this issue.
Making broadband more accessible and affordable to communities like ours isn't a Republican or Democrat issue. It's a rural issue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and the governor on it in the months ahead.
Another significant issue surrounding greater Minnesota's economic development is the Line 3 replacement pipeline. Enbridge recently announced it is delaying construction until late 2020 - more than a year later than initially planned. I'm disappointed by this but believe the blame lays directly on our current and past governor. There have been countless holdups with the state permitting process and the Walz administration now continues to obstruct this project by renewing legal challenges against it.
This investment represents meaningful property tax relief and good-paying jobs for our area and northern Minnesota. People are longing for these economic benefits, and I will continue to voice my support for this project.
Improvements to our roads and bridges support rural economic development as well, and I continue to push for investments in these transportation priorities. For example, I'm working on legislation to ensure the Minnesota Department of Transportation invests in expanding Highway 169 to four lanes for the entire stretch between Grand Rapids and Virginia. I'm also working with the department to make sure planned improvements for Highway 2 east of Grand Rapids proceed as scheduled.
In order to fund our transportation priorities, I support dedicating existing auto parts sales tax revenue exclusively to roads and bridges. The governor has proposed taking this revenue from transportation purposes and using it to fund other things in state government. To fill in these dollars that should go toward transportation, he's calling for a massive 20-cent gas tax increase.
This is the wrong approach, and not a strategy that will grow rural economies.
As someone who has worked on rural development issues since the 1990s, I understand rural communities' economic development needs. Folks in our community want accessible, affordable broadband. They want good-paying jobs and lower property taxes. And they want better roads and bridges.
These infrastructure investments should be priorities of state government and you can count on me to continue advocating for them in St. Paul.