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.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Passing the sales tax amendment in November 2008 was one of the stupidest things ever done by the Minnesota voters. We, the voters are responsible for this mistake, only because the legislators, after years of wrangling about the issue, said, "let the people decide". Then they put the amendment to the constitution process in place.

If clean water, parkland, trails, and culture are important to Minnesota citizens (which the positive vote in Nov. 2008 showed to be the case), then you senators and representatives should have provided funding EVEN IF it meant raising taxes. But no----you folks would not do it because it might look bad on your voting record and voters may turn to someone else the next time you were on the ticket.

So you crafted a constitutional amendment that would raise the rate of our state sales tax by 3/8ths of one percent and dedicate the money to wildlife, water, parks, and the arts. 56% of the voters said, "yes" and because they did, today there is a big fight for the money. You legislators should have known better. The amendment did not set up a specific structure to distribute the money and now we have organizations coming out of the woodwork in a royal battle over "getting our share of the money".

There is argument about the meaning of the language in the amendment. What part of "protect, enhance, and restore" is so difficult to understand? Wildlife groups want the money to be spent for ONLY "on the ground" projects and when some folks suggest spending on management --like of land the DNR already owns, they get all huffy. If the conservation groups demand on the ground projects they should be really upset about the $750,000 that went to the U of M Water Resource Center to create a comprehensive 25 year "Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework" plan. That seems like a lot of tax money needlessly spent when every county is required to do a water plan and update it every five years. How much work could it be to access 87 plans and consolidate them?

Most of the time, Minnesota excels in the way we do public policy. This was not one of those times. This amendment will cost us much more than any tax increase and the worst result is further polarization among groups who are working for the same results ---a good quality of life in our state. Taxpayers have a right to be very disappointed. end

Friday, March 19, 2010


It looks like the big gunfight on reforming health care will be coming this week-end. The whole health care issue is very complicated and many articles indicate that no one seems to know why. This household has tried to educate ourselves by reading many articles, letters to the editor, watching Bill Moyers, and the McNeil Lehrer report as well as special shows dedicated to the subject. Our take on this issue is as follows:
  1. Like most other issues, Minnesota seems to do things better in the area of health care.
  2. Doing it better has meant we are penalized.
  3. Our state insurance regulators have made sure insurance companies that do business here offer basic coverages without penalizing subscribers.
  4. Our system is bogged down in paperwork as compared to other countries - hence adding to the cost.
  5. No matter what the vote is on Sunday night, the insurance companies will come out winners.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Regulations are a good thing!

Sometimes we get a little disgusted because it seems like we need to get permission just to do stuff that makes our lives worth living. Example: the Gopher One call. We need to make that call before we do any digging in road right of way - even if it is something as simple as planting a flower. If we want to build a new building, add on to a building, blacktop a driveway, add a new field approach, - all of these activities require "asking permission" of some entity and perhaps having to get a permit.

Usually we consider this "just another interference" from some unknown governmental agency. Sometimes our attitude is that "these folks are doing this to perpetuate their jobs." These are typical human responses.

The human response can change with changing conditions. For example, the human response changes very quickly when our neighbor wants to expand his or her livestock business; or put up a dog kennel; or start a home business; or lease land to a developer for commercial wind turbines. When conditions change and we walk in someone else's shoes, we are not so upset about having rules and regulations in place. My experience has been that - when conditions change; it is common for folks to desire even stricter regulations.

For many years, Nicollet County has been a model for other counties in regard to the way we do zoning. I received another reaffirmation of that in the form of an e-mail last week. A person from Illinois sent me a message and asked why Nicollet County had increased our setbacks from residences in our Wind Energy Conversion Ordinance. His message said, "I live in Adams County, Illinois where wind developers are just beginning to look at our area for development. Our County Board hurriedly put together an ordinance as we have no rural zoning in this county." Continuing, the message stated, "Also, do you have a public hearing process before a permit is approved?"

My response to him explained the need for more local control when developers come into our county; and at the same time maintaining the ability of landowners to do development on their own land thus keeping any benefits. Again, most of us would choose to have some rules in place to protect our property as well as guiding development, rather than having to live with the above scenario. end

Thursday, March 11, 2010


David Kruse is an agriculture analyst and trader who writes a column, "The Commstock Report" for the DTN network. He is an observer of public affairs and asked his Minnesota readers to comment on our Governor. Pawlenty is becoming more well known and has been tagged as a governor that does not raise taxes and as the guy who wants to defeat President Obama. Fred drew my attention to the fact that, "Commstock wants to know about Pawlenty!" I gave him an earful!

In my opinion Pawlenty is a politician in every sense of the word. He has a Teflon quality that serves him well. He appears to not be responsible for raising taxes, but the bottom line is that he does. My message to Kruse was, "I am a county commissioner and Pawlenty's politics (no new tax pledge) has dumped many problems on the backs of local units of government."

We are dependent on the gas tax to help fund our roads. The roads were falling apart, but (for years) we could not get a gas tax increase. So the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners bonded several million dollars to build 10 ton roads. The result is a tax increase.

Pawlenty is creative, he changed the words and implemented a tobacco fee to help balance the budget. This fee is a tax in disguise. This is a tax increase. He is holding back regular payments to schools, meaning some have to do short term borrowing. The result is a tax increase.

Eliminating the GAMC program meant increased cost for local hospitals and law enforcement. This is a tax increase.

Local units of government cut the fat (if there ever was any) years ago, they have cut the meat, and now there is only bone left. The result of Pawlenty's no new taxes is that local units of government have had to increase taxes in order to keep baseline level of services. Over 65% of our county budget is spent doing the work of the state at the county level. The state expects the work to be done (mandates) with fewer and fewer funds to contribute to the state/county partnership. (ps, Kruse used much of this information in a later column.)end

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TAX SALE LAND - DNR gets first dibs!

The people in the audience were having none of it! "It" was the explanation given by the DNR for purchasing land for the Swan Lake Wildlife Management area. The meeting was held in Nicollet in the mid 1980's. One of the most telling comments came from an area farmer. "The DNR can't manage the land they have---they have no business buying more!"

A recent report to the legislature indicates that things haven't changed much in the ensuing 25 years. The report indicates a lack of information about DNR easements. Lack of baseline conservation information, lack of clear legal boundaries, lack of monitoring i.e. lack of management. In short, no oversight. The only thing different from 25 years ago, is that the DNR controls more land than it did then. And with recent amendment sales tax money it looks like they will be trying to buy even more.

Nicollet County recently needed to put a process in place to sell tax-forfeited property. One of the first actions of the county board was to declare the property to be either conservation lands or non-conservation lands. Why? Because according to statute, when conservation lands come up for sale because of tax forfeiture, the DNR gets first dibs. end