Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Basic Premise: The budgetary problems are not state problems, they are not city problems, they are not county problems, or school district problems. The budgetary problems are OUR problems and that includes everyone and every governmental unit or agency in the state of Minnesota. If we – Minnesota citizens – deal with this on a global perspective ----we will prevail. We are a great state and we can solve big problems.

How should the problem be solved?
This question is why we are where we are today. We have different ideas on what is best for our citizens. Rep. Paul Thissen was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He said the Governor’s idea and specifically (the Governor’s) veto of GAMC (General Assistance Medical Care) was wrong. Why?

“We are breaking a promise that we’ve had in Minnesota for generations, that we are going to take care of those least able to take care of themselves.
The other thing is, it’s a clear example of short-term thinking. It’s thinking we can solve problems by not paying for them, or just moving them off of government’s books. That is just not true.

What the governor did with GAMC in marquee style puts up the fundamental debate we’ve been having for the past decade. We’ve had this notion put before us that we can keep the Minnesota we have always known without paying for it. That’s tied to the notion that we’re all on our own, and should be able to take care of ourselves. The pendulum is swinging back to the idea that we do owe obligations to each other.”(End of quote)

It is particularly upsetting to me and many others that the people affected by this veto are folks who do not have a voice at the capitol. The poorest of the poor are the people for which the counties must provide safety nets.

Running government like a business.
Many statements from our leaders and citizens have implored us to run our governmental units like a business OR we have been asked to run our governmental units just like a family runs their family budgets. These statements make good “sound bytes” but these ideas are unworkable and will not solve our budgetary problems.

WHY? The analogy is somewhat like comparing apples and oranges. There are several examples why this idea is unworkable for governmental units. I will only mention one. Businesses – by their vary nature---- EXIST TO MAKE A PROFIT.

Governmental units exist to serve citizens. Governmental units have great incentives to be more efficient, (just like a business) BUT unlike a business that must have a profit to exist. The idea of a profit is foreign to governmental units.

IN REALITY, counties are the safety net for our citizens to fall back on when their businesses have problems or fail.

Another explanation comes from Rev. Bob Esbjornson’s book “A Christian in Politics”. The book was written in 1955. He states concerning the function of government or the state:

“The state is not a lord, but a SERVANT. It exists because the people need it. It serves to preserve order, to protect the clashing self-interests of society. By doing so, the state creates conditions which promote the welfare of the people.”

Reducing state aid does not raise property taxes
We often hear this statement from our state politicians. It is basically true. But there is more to this picture.Historically, the purpose of these state aids received by cities and counties is to offset the inabilities of local units of governments to provide basic services. The aids are meant to enable governmental units of all sizes to be able to provide basic services desired by all citizens. THIS IS THE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE STATE AND COUNTIES that has existed for decades.
Counties do the work of the state------- on the local level. The agreement is that funds will come from the state to help us carry out the mandates at the local level. When these aids are reduced, we have two choices.

1.Make up the difference with local property tax revenue.
2.Reduce discretionary spending. (Most people would suggest we take this route.)

What would our county look like if we kept reducing spending and/or eliminated programs? We might have roads that would be closed during extensive wet spells or heavy snowfalls. We might have no snow plows running on week ends. We might not have a 4-H or Extension program. We might not be prepared for emergency situations like floods. We might not be able to help our veterans access services. We might have fewer public health programs. We might have fewer road deputies. We might have fewer employees at the government center and longer waits at the windows. We might have fewer “open” hours at the government center.
Is this what we really want – so we can pay less in taxes? Up until now, commissioners have made the decisions to maintain our quality of life in Nicollet County. Granted, no one relishes paying taxes. But have you ever thought what life would be like if we did not pay taxes. What would it be like if we lived in a country where no one paid taxes?

Here is an example. Thomas Friedman, writing in “The World is Flat” talked about the countries that have an abundance of oil.
“They can use oil money to monopolize all the instruments of power---army, police, and intelligence---and never have to introduce real transparency or power sharing. All they have to do is capture and hold the oil tap. They never have to tax their people, so the relationship between ruler and ruled is highly distorted. Without taxation, there is no representation.”

OUR PROBLEMS CAN BE SOLVED. We can do it by working together in a spirit of compromise; putting the needs of the citizens first and personal agendas last; and by being statesmen instead of politicians.
I believe these qualities were lacking the past few months in St. Paul. end

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Month designation is a way to increase awareness of a particular issue. This month, it is mental health. The numbers are staggering. Mental illness will strike one of five adults and children in a given year regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion or economic status. If we just stop and think about it, we all personally know one or more people who are affected by this illness.
At a recent legislative conference, a presenter on mental illness said there are 211,000 people with serious mental health issues in the state of Minnesota. In the area of law enforcement and justice, over one half of the population have serious mental health problems. Senior citizens have a higher incidence than the rest of the population. Calls to suicide prevention hot lines have increased by 35%. These people are all thing of seriously injuring themselves. This is a REAL epidemic where as the H1N1 virus is “the flu”.
The World Health Association has declared mental illness our country’s number two disability. More police are dying from suicide than from the perpetrators. More veterans have died of “suicide” or an “accident” than in the conflicts we are currently engaged in-in Iraq and Afghanistan. These people actually “died in the war but waited until later to commit the act.”
The sad part of this is that many of the 30,000 Minnesotans impacted by Governor Pawlenty’s vetoe of the GAMC program are people who are seriously and persistently mentally ill. Many will not be able to afford treatment and/or medications. They will receive treatment – but not the positive kind. They will end up in jails and prisons which is a much more expensive way to deal with the illness. Treatment will be harsh and negative rather than positive with good outcomes for the person who is ill. However the expense will be borne by the local county government (property tax) rather than the state general revenue fund. And Governor Pawlenty can add another line to his “no taxes” pledge and win admiration from party loyalists. How can he do this? He can do it because the people he is hurting have no voices to speak for them. This is a shame and folly for our state. end

Minnesota Valley Action Council

will receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funds.

John Woodwick, Executive Director of MVAC has shared the following. The agency has received an allocation of $554,232. These funds must be spent by September 20, 2010. The money becomes available June 15, 2009 and the plan was submitted on May 15, 2009.

The strong emphasis for the use of the funds is in JOB CREATION. The funds may not be used for capital improvements (bricks and mortar). This dollar amount represents 76% of the MVAC regular Community Services Block Grant amount ($726,342) @ 30 months. The ARRA must be expended in 50% of that time or 15 months.

The strategy for the funds is to create a “life” beyond the end of September 20, 2010. The strategies should last from six years to 35 years. There will be 18 jobs created; 50 training for employment opportunities; 37 additional people provided with vehicles; 15 people will be able to lease new cars; and 100 people will have emergency needs funded.

Some money will be used to establish another thrift store which will be located in New Ulm. They will use some of the money to purchase a truck and a trailer. This will allow the agency pick up cars donated to the Wheel Get There Program. This equipment will be used to move items coming and going to the thrift stores. The agency will be obtaining their own baler to bale up clothing not sold. Unusable baled clothing can be sold to the secondary market.

Woodwick said that the agency will be expected to spend $8 million by September 2110. To put it in perspective, the regular budget for the agency is $18 million. Woodwick said, “we have our work cut out for us”. The agency will be working with more dollars than they have ever had in the past and they will still get their regular funding.

My committee, the Community Services committee approved contracts totaling $1,931,000 for Workforce Investment Act programs. These are training programs for adults who have lost their jobs or do not have jobs.

The need to help people is large. There was an increase in phone contacts of 1,731 from April of 2009 over April of 2008. end

Saturday, May 02, 2009


The Minnesota Pork Producer's Association, headquartered in Mankato is doing the "right thing". They are sponsoring ads or "public service announcements" on Minnesota Public Radio explaining that swine and pork have absolutely nothing to do with the H1N1 virus that is causing flu. Good for them for identifying the correct audience to speak to. Far too often, agriculture groups waste their time by preaching to the choir. end


This past week the Association of Minnesota Counties, the Minnesota School Board Association, the Minnesota Association of Townships, and the League of Minnesota Cities met in one spot and shared speakers and programs. One of the breakfasts featured the leaders of the Minnesota House, Margaret Kelliher, Marty Seifert, and the Minnesota Senate, Larry Pogemiller, and David Senjem. This writer was not able to hear all of the presentation, but I overheard comments such as the following. "These people just do not get it. Why can't they stop being Republicans or Democrats and just be Minnesotans?"

These responses show the frustration of local elected officials. The last comment is very interesting. One of the answers to this question is happening right about this time. It is near the end of the session and the conference committees are being formed to iron out the differences between the house and senate bills. At this time, it is important to be in a party and also to be in the majority party. The majority party will have a majority representation in the conference committees and will have a better chance of advancing legislation that will benefit their policy stands. end