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Legislature anti-rural with budget?

The time for heavy lifting is quickly approaching in the Minnesota Legislature as its major bills of the session make their way to the floors of the House and Senate - primarily bonding for public works project and a budget balancing bill to fill...

The time for heavy lifting is quickly approaching in the Minnesota Legislature as its major bills of the session make their way to the floors of the House and Senate - primarily bonding for public works project and a budget balancing bill to fill a $938 million state budget hole.

From what we're seeing with the budget bill, we're becoming more and more leery of what might be done to rural Minnesota, rather than for rural Minnesota.

Especially in the Senate, the budget bill announced Friday by the Senate Finance Committee seems to tilt two ways - anti-rural and anti-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. While we have much to question about the Republican governor's budget proposal, we think this is one instance where we believe rural Minnesotans should stand with Pawlenty and urge a veto if the Senate bill survives.

First, it does nothing for rural economic development. The bill would terminate the Jobs Opportunity Building Zones (JOBZ) program, one which we believe needs fine-tuning, but is a signature program for rural Minnesota. JOBZ offers infrastructure tax incentives to expanding or new businesses in a targeted site, and can be a tool in a rural development toolbox. The Senate, however, is less harsh in terminating JOBZ than the House, which would end tax benefits to current recipients now.

Once doing that to rural Minnesota, the Senate bill would also give a cold shoulder to Pawlenty's request for his Strategic Entrepreneurial Economic Development (SEED) program for small businesses in rural Minnesota. That would ask for about $20 million in state funds and $50 million in bonding.

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Both JOBZ and SEED are Pawlenty plans, so it's easy to assume politics at play. Especially when you throw in that the bill cuts $14 million in guarantees for the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities in September.

It also protects funding for transit - used mostly in the metro area - while slashing grant funds to help gas stations install ethanol E-85 pumps of which there are so few in rural Minnesota where ethanol production is soaring.

Add to that a Senate health bill moving along that could, through mandating "report cards" and price lists on medical providers and having rate incentives for those with good reports, endanger rural health care where basically there is no choice and, in the end, make rural health care more inaccessible and more costly.

We realize the Legislature is now metro-dominated, but we would hope legislators don't forget there is another Minnesota beyond the 494/694 beltway.

THE BEMIDJI PIONEER

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