Mr. Dahle Goes to St. Paul


Archive for the ‘Environment’

Raiding the Piggy Bank

February 28, 2010 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Environment No Comments →

Imagine Junior working and saving for years, pocketing part of the money he earns on his paper route, hoping to squirrel away enough money for a down payment on his college education. That’s a nice story until Dad breaks open the piggy bank to skim off some funds that he says aren’t being used.
The same story is being played out in the Minnesota state budget. Workers forward part of their hard earned pay into dedicated funds only to see the Governor raiding their piggy banks to transfer the money to the General Fund. Last year the Governor proposed eliminating the Health Care Access Fund and transferring all provider tax revenues into the general fund. Why should the Health Care Access Fund serve as a slush fund to pay for projects unrelated to health care or to balance the state’s budget?
This year we learned the Governor’s supplemental Budget was to transfer $267,000 from the snowmobile dedicated account and another $400,000 from the ATV account to the General Fund. Only after organized outrage from these groups did the Governor back down from that proposal.
Electrical contractors are seeing a $1.5 million transfer from the Construction Codes and Licensing Division’s continuing education fund to the General fund. These dollars were paid for by electrical contractors from across the state to offset costs related to education courses, seminars and registration fees for necessary ongoing and required training.
Pick up the daily paper and you will read more of the same. The Star Tribune reported today the Governor’s supplemental budget calls for $1.2 million to be taken from the state’s Water Recreation Account – funds generated by the 860,000 boaters in the form of fee and boat registration – and transferred to the General Fund. Projects that include boat ramps and canoe and boat route management get axed.
More and more of our dedicated funds are not finding their way to their original and intended purpose. Those paying into these various funds are left holding a broken piggy bank with less incentive to continue paying. They are angry and rightfully so. Allowing this practice is a dangerous precedent and will lead to further raiding of our dedicated accounts.

Snowy Middle Ground

November 15, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Environment, Le Sueur County, Scott County, Sibley County, Transportation No Comments →

snowThe US Fish and Wildlife Service has been purchasing land in the Minnesota River Valley with the intent to provide additional acreage to the National Wildlife Refuge already in place there. That is an admirable and worthwhile goal. Unfortunately, they have decided to ban snowmobile use on newly acquired lands, specifically on trails that have been in existence there since the 1970s. These trails have successfully co-existed with those uses outlined in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s guidelines since the trail’s inception. Snowmobiling groups and I have been working with our representatives in Congress as well as those at the Fish and Wildlife Services in hopes of finding a solution to the problem before the first snowfall. Even a waiver for conditional use of the established Grant-in-Aid snowmobile trail this winter season seems to be a reasonable compromise.
There is much at stake. The city of Henderson depends on the patronage of snowmobile traffic to help them through the winter months. Other cities will also be impacted by dwindling patronage if this vital link in the trail system is unavailable. In addition, local fire and rescue utilize the established trails to access the river bottom lands. Reduction in this accessibility affects their plans in the event of emergency situations. Snowmobiling is a favorite winter pastime for thousands of Minnesotans. Snowmobiling also helps provide a large number of recreation opportunities for other trail users since the majority of snowmobile trails in Minnesota are open for multiple uses and help provide important winter access, services, and trailheads. Rerouting of the existing trail, in this case a steep ditch, poses many safety issues including the crossing of county roads, many without shoulders.
Snowmobiling provides opportunities for families and friends to enjoy wintertime companionship while experiencing splendid scenery like no other season offers. These opportunities combine to help teach respect and conservation of the environment, while instilling a strong appreciation for private and public lands.

“This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1912

Weighing the Vote

July 19, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Energy, Environment No Comments →

_senate_convenes_33From now until the 2010 election, we will hear the steady drumbeat from the opposition critical of legislators and their work during the 2009 legislative session, specifically dealing with the unprecedented $6.4 budget deficit. I am okay with that. As an elected official, I understand we will be subject to criticism, right or wrong. The people’s freedom to express themselves is essential in a representative democracy.
Freiderich von Schiller once said, “Votes should be weighed, not counted.” As constituents, how do we fairly evaluate a legislative vote? That is a difficult question. First of all, Minnesota has been in the midst of the worst recession in over 60 years. There were no easy votes this past legislative session. And to be certain, no politician campaigns on a platform of deep cuts and tax increases. So what are the options? Perhaps you vote for a Senate plan which included a combination of significant cuts and increased revenue? With compromise in mind, you may cast a vote on a different option because you know the Governor will accept the bill. Sometimes you cast a vote because it is the best bill the House of Representatives can muster. A lot of hard work followed by difficult decisions. Ideally, you cast a vote because you believe it is the best solution to a tough problem and because you believe the outcome is best for the citizens of District 25 and the state of Minnesota.
Voting on the floor of the Senate is one part of being a legislator. I received good advice from a friend recently, a gentle reminder: “Vote your convictions.” Partisanship aside, if your legislator believes we should invest in education, take care of the sick and the poor, clean up our air and water, rebuild our roads and bridges, and work to build an economy that provides good jobs with benefits…that’s the best we can hope for. Hard work. Compromise. Conviction. And if people choose to be critical, that is their right. Criticism is part of our public policy process and I welcome the debate.

Sensible Communities

February 22, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Energy, Environment, Transportation No Comments →

nfieldImagine a community that gives its citizens more choices about where they live and how they get around. Instead of policies that promote urban sprawl, how about a community that encourages more compact development, saving infrastructure costs and accessibility. Why not consider a town built around jobs, schools, and services supporting walking and biking in daily life, reducing obesity and other health risks.
This past week in the Energy committee I heard a bill introduced by Senator Scott Dibble (SF 657) which recommends “improved land use planning and development strategies as an essential step to ensure that we protect our natural resources and quality of life.” The bill is based on a recommendation by the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory (MCCAG) in its final report.
Employees, residents, and students in cities like Northfield want commuter rail or transportation that makes sense. That means transportation options that include proximity to housing, jobs, and schools connected with bike trails, footpaths, and pedestrian friendly routes. Development is springing up around current light rail and commuter rail projects. Sensible communities allow resident to drive less – saving more on gas, parking, and automobile purchases and repairs.
Among other things, the proposal creates incentives for metro and greater Minnesota communities to implement land use planning practices that would achieve global warming reduction goals. It would require both the Met Council and MnDOT to plan for pollution reduction and a transportation system to help achieve these goals as well as preserve more farmland and open spaces.
Building sensible communities makes sense if it indeed helps lower costs, offers more transit choices, promotes healthy lifestyles, and protects Minnesota’s great outdoors for future generations by reducing global warming and air pollution. Cities, in cooperation with Counties and state government, should pursue these types of policies as they consider long range planning.

Weighing In

February 16, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, Event, Health Care, Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 25, Le Sueur County, Rice County, Scott County, Sibley County, Transportation No Comments →

The Mayor of Elysian was overhead leaving one of the many town meetings held in District 25 over the weekend, “That was kind of fun.” I couldn’t agree more. It is not every Saturday that local citizens get a chance to gather to discuss the issues of the day. We discussed a variety of issues and I was impressed with the level of discussion, the interest and knowledge of the participants and the respectful tone of the meetings….even when participants took opposing views. So what did the citizens of District 25 bring to the table?
Two weeks ago, I visited Waterville, Elysian, LeCenter and Cleveland. Last Saturday, I held town meetings in Belle Plaine, LeSueur, Montgomery, and New Prague. Foremost on everyone’s mind was the budget deficit and the economy. Several expressed concerns about proposed cuts and the long term effects of such cuts. Specifically, cuts to Local Government Aid, Education, and Health and Human Services seemed to garner the most attention. Most agreed that cuts will be necessary and as we move forward, prioritizing and determining the level of cuts will need to be decided. But other residents said that Minnesota may need to look at new sources of revenue to maintain basic government services and ensure a quality of life we have come to expect in Minnesota.
npragueSeveral constituents in the New Prague and Belle Plaine area have concerns about the CapX2020 project. CapX2020 is a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding region to expand the electric transmission grid. The transmission lines will be built in phases and several residents have concerns about the line’s route and the impact this project will have on their lives. Representative David Bly and I have introduced legislation to address some of their concerns.
Casinos, Unemployment, Nuclear power, parks and trails, pensions, and the Minnesota Health Plan were part of the agenda in several of the towns. The Green Acres legislation in 2008 also garnered much discussion. I am a co-author on a bill in the legislature that would repeal many of those changes to make sure farmland is valued for tax purposes on its agricultural value, rather than its future development potential or highest and best use value.
Many citizens shared their real life experiences at these meetings. They have expertise in farming, health care, local government, energy, education, and the environment. Dropping two fishing lines in the lake may not seem like a big deal to many, but a proposed law on that very matter prompted one resident fisherman to voice his opposition. I was happy to listen. And if this comes up for a vote on the floor of the Senate, I will consider myself a more informed legislator. Thank you, constituents, for sharing your thoughts and concerns these past few weekends. That was kind of fun.

2009 Session Preview

January 01, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, Health Care, Transportation 1 Comment →

Addressing the budget deficit will be the main issue for 2009, but what are some of the other areas that the Minnesota Senate will be focusing on as the session gets under way January 6?
• Rebuilding Minnesota’s economy and protecting workers impacted by the recession
• Tax Reform and tax fairness
• Adopting Mn/DOT Bridge Reforms
• Review the costs and benefits of No Fault Auto Insurance
• Green JOBZ program
• Growing Minnesota’s Bioscience industry
• Addressing Foreclosures/Neighborhood Stabilization Programs
• Meeting Long term care challenges
• Allocation of funds from Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment
• GRAD Test/Testing Reform/ Stabilize education funding
• Implement Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group recommendations/Renewable Energy Standards
• Stranger Oriented Life Insurance
• Farmer-Lender Mediation Act Authorization extension
• Small Bonding bill
• College Affordability/College Readiness and Retention
• Juvenile Justice Initiatives/Data Privacy Issues
• Elections Law
• Role of Nuclear Energy in Minnesota’s energy portfolio/Greenhouse Gas reductions
• Health Care Reform/Pharmaceutical Reform/Children’s health insurance
• Minimum Wage/Consumer cost savings measures
• Pensions
• Local Government Aid reform
While this list is a partial glimpse at the range and scope of issues and topics that may be discussed this session, it is by no means an exclusive list. I am sure to be writing about the specifics of these and other policy issues as we begin our work next week.

Looking Ahead

December 17, 2008 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Energy, Environment, Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 25 1 Comment →

Solving the near and long-term state budget deficits will be the primary focus of the 2009 Legislative session.  State economists warn this is the longest recession since WWII and it likely will take longer for the state to emerge successfully than in past recessions.  Therefore, the legislature will be focused on long-term, fiscally responsible policies that set up the state for future success.  That will require a combination of government reforms, reasonable spending reductions, and a commitment to preserve the things that have made Minnesota a national leader in the past.

The state’s economists attribute the steep decline to overall economic performance and the current recession, which began in December 2007.  Minnesota lost more than 42,000 jobs from October 2007 to October 2008, and the state is expected to lose as many as 77,000 jobs in 2009.  The key to emerging from the recession will be job creating policies that will attract new economic activity to Minnesota.  Growing opportunities and jobs in the biosciences, renewable energy, and rural economic development should be a high priority.  Improving the business climate and targeted investments toward job creation, such as “angel” tax credits or support for local economic development programs like the MN Investment fund can help us reach some of those goals.

Obviously, the state will need to take a close look at existing program, agencies, and expenditures, and review them using the following 3 questions:

1.  Is this expenditure an appropriate governmental purpose authorized by our laws and Constitution?

2. Is this expenditure necessary, especially in difficult economic times?

3.  Is this expenditure actually producing the intended result, or is there a more efficient and economical way to accomplish this legitimate state purpose?

We need to look at ways to give relief to local governments and school districts.  This means taking a hard look at existing mandates and allowing those local units of government more autonomy in moving existing resources to meet existing and essential needs.  We need to collaborate and coordinate for more efficient public services in areas of transportation, buying power, combined billing, delivery of service, and administration.

This will be a difficult session, but it is imperative that the Senate, House, Governor, Republicans, and Democrats all get on the same page to come up with solutions that will help lead Minnesota out of this recession.  I will continue to lay out some ideas as to how we can do that in the next several weeks leading up to the January 6 session. Please feel to contact me with your ideas as well.

Mill Towns Trail

September 11, 2008 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Environment, Rice County, Transportation 1 Comment →

The Friends of the Mill Towns Trail are excited about projects that may come to fruition by this time next year. I attended a meeting last night in Dundas with some of the Trails faithful describing what’s next for the trail.

There are 3 projects on the horizon. A bridge will be erected across the Cannon River in Northfield near Walgreen’s connecting to an underpass of Hwy 3. Some additional trail will be built west of Cannon Falls and another bridge will be built in Faribault which will include underpass access for both Hwys. 21 and Hwy 3 north of town. This is exciting stuff for trail enthusiasts. They have worked tirelessly to raise money to complete a trail providing the missing link between Mankato and Red Wing.

Money has come from several sources. The Northfield Bike tour this past weekend, as part of the Defeat of Jesse James Day celebration, netted nearly $16,000, two thirds of which will go to the Mill Towns trail.   Over 1300 riders took part.  Hats off to the Northfield Rotary club for organizing the event and for their generous donations over the years to the trail group. Local initiatives and cooperation are very effective in leveraging federal dollars and grant money. The trail received a federal grant several years ago. State money from the capital bonding bill brought in about $650,000 from the last session. And the DNR, an advocate for completion of the trail, has recently come through with lottery money for the trail.

There is still much to be done. Accessing right of ways, purchasing abandoned rail, completing trail heads and facilities, and maintaining existing trail is costly and involves long term commitment. The economic and recreational benefits for towns like Dundas and Northfield are worth the effort. We should all get behind these types of partnerships.

For more info about the trail:

School Land Trust

August 04, 2008 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Environment No Comments →

Over 150 years ago, Minnesota received several land grants from the federal government to be held in trust for specific purposes, such as schools. On Wednesday of last week, I attended a joint hearing of the Environment, Energy, Natural Resources and the E-12 Education Budget committee regarding Minnesota’s school trust lands.

Today the state holds about 2.5 million acres of school trust land and about 1 million acres of land with mineral rights. In the past, money generated from these lands has been allocated to school districts, with a general fund subtraction. In other words, if a school district receives $1 from the land trust it would lose $1 from their general fund. In 2008, the legislature permanently eliminated that subtraction. This amounted to additional revenue per pupil. Belle Plaine received $34.2 per pupil unit, Northfield $32.5, and Cleveland received $30.3. Other senate district 25 school districts fell somewhere between that 30 and 35 dollar increase.

Although the future of mineral mining in Minnesota is uncertain, the potential is apparent. For example, three mineral deposits in the Duluth area alone contain resources that could generate royalties of $1.4 billion at today’s metal prices if mined over a period of 20-25 years. There is a dramatic growth in world demand for metals, spurred mostly by growth in Asia and emerging markets.

In state statute: The goal of the Permanent school fund is to secure long term economic returns consistent with Minnesota constitutional fiduciary responsibilities, with sound natural resource conservation management principles.

This committee and others will continue to look for ways to maximize this potential source of income. We will continue to look for ways to provide badly needed revenue and relief for school district budgets across the state of Minnesota. I am excited about the possibilities.

End of Session

May 27, 2008 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Environment, Health Care, Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 25, Scott County, Transportation No Comments →

The 2008 Legislature solved the $935 million budge shortfall using a combination of $355 million in spending cuts, $100 million in corporate tax changes, and $550 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. A brief overview of the session:

  • The Education Bill provides an additional $51 per student in one-time aid to school districts.  The bill also allows districts to transfer up to $51 per student from their capital operating funds to help districts put more money into classrooms.
  • The Transportation package will invest $6.6 billion in new resources into our state’s infrastructure over the next 10 years.
  • The Legislature, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both House and Senate, passed a $925 million bonding bill, which will create thousands of jobs.  Local projects include money for the Mills Town Trail, the Faribault Prison expansion, and the Scott County Regional Training facility.
  • After a year’s worth of work and bipartisan compromise, the Legislature passed significant health care reform that will result in reduced costs and increased access.
  • Historic legislation that will give Minnesotans the choice to invest invest in the things they love most about  their state:  lakes and rivers, outdoor resources, and cultural amenities. A constitutional amendment will be on the ballot this fall that will dedicate and additional 3/8 of 1% of state sales tax revenue in those unique qualities that characterize Minnesota’s way of life.
  • A $24 million compensation for the survivors of the I-35W Bridge collapse.
  • Homeowners will see property tax relief under the 2008 tax bill.  This includes a plan that would prevent local levies from rising more than 3.9% a year, and investments of $60 million in Local Government Aid which will go to cities and counties to cushion the effect of a levy limit.

This provides a brief summary of the 2008 legislative session.  Other important work was done in the areas of agriculture, commerce and consumer protection, pensions, energy and the environment, higher education, veterans and military affairs,  business and economic development.  I will be weighing in on some of the specifics of many of these bills as we head into summer.