A barn, obviously (shedsplanskits.com).
by Steve Timmer
Jan 25, 2015, 6:00 PM

Dear rural friends: it’s not our fault

[See the comments to this story.]

The front page story in the Star Tribune on January 25th, by reporter Patrick Congdon, reports an increasing rural-urban divide, in the minds of rural people, anyway. It has touched off many 140 character conversations, and it continues to do so as of this writing. As the story states, many rural Minnesotans think they’re getting a raw deal from state government:

“Folks come into the cities and they see the cranes everywhere, they see a new stadium under construction, they see a lot more signs of obvious wealth,” said Marty Seifert, a former Republican lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate who now lobbies for outstate interests in St. Paul. “The Republicans exploited that very effectively, weaved it into a ‘we got left behind’ narrative.”

But the state budget will show you that it isn’t the urban areas’ fault.

From the same Strib article:

Perception aside, the numbers show the Twin Cities metro counties are the state’s economic engine, generating tax dollars that flow outward to every corner of the state. A June 2014 report by nonpartisan House Research shows the seven metro counties of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington generate considerably more tax revenue than the other 80 counties combined.

In 2010, the latest year comprehensive numbers were available, those metro counties contained 53.7 percent of the state’s population but accounted for 63.8 percent of all state tax receipts. For spending, the split reversed, with 52.8 percent of state spending goes to the metro, while the remainder went to outstate Minnesota.

In broad terms, a greater share of education and human services dollars goes to the metro, while outstate does considerably better in distribution of highway dollars and local government assistance.

“The metro provides funding for greater Minnesota, not the reverse,” Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said at a recent legislative forum. “But Minnesotans don’t believe it.”

– o O o –

Not only “Minnesotans,” but some legislators who ought to know better, too. One of them is now the chair of a new committee in the Minnesota House, Rep. Bob Gunther, who said, quoting Tim Pugmire now:

One of the new House committees is called the Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy. It’s a name that suggests an exclusively non-metro agenda. State Rep. Bob Gunther, the committee chairman, insists that he wants to help the entire state. But he said rural areas need some extra attention.

“We want to have some way to catch up. For 120 years, Greater Minnesota supported, financially and otherwise, the metro area,” said Gunther, R-Fairmont. “I think it’s time we try to help ourselves a little bit more.”

Pure legerdemain bullshit. Here are the facts, also reported by Pugmire:

The latest numbers from the nonpartisan Minnesota House Research Department show the seven-county metro area pays 64 percent of the state’s taxes and gets back 53 percent of the major tax aids, credits and refunds. By comparison, the 80 non-metro counties pay 36 percent and get back 47 percent.

It should be apparent to even the casual observer that being in the cities or proximate to them generates economic activity, a lot of it. Not to mention taxes.

Among the reasons that “Minnesotans don’t believe it” are remarks by disinformation specialists like Bob Gunther. And maybe the backwards reporting by the Associated Press.

– o O o –

Somebody else in the Legislature who ought to know better is Kurt Daudt, the new Speaker of the Minnesota House. But he, and his good friends at the Minnesota Action Network, were too busy peddling their own faux grievance and resentment in the run up to the election to set the record straight, the same faux grievance and resentment that Marty Seifert was talking about above.

And it worked pretty well. Here’s another bit from the Strib article linked above:

“I can tell you it was a tangible feeling when I campaigned,” said Rep. Tim Miller, a new House Republican whose district includes Renville along with other small towns and sparsely populated counties. “You’d hear this: ‘I can’t believe they built themselves a new [state office] building, and meanwhile Highway 12 out here is in about as good a shape as a goat trail.’ ”

It’s MNDOT that sets road building priorities, as Rep. Miller is about to find out, and it funds them from fuel taxes, not appropriations from the general fund.

Or how about this, from the same article:

“The last two years had been a Democrat majority that really was Minneapolis– and St. Paul-centric and was forgetting the rest of the state,” the Capitol’s new top Republican, Speaker Kurt Daudt, said the day after the election. Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, won his race in part by dubbing his DFL opponent, Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake, “Metro Jay” for McNamar’s vote for same-sex marriage.

Perhaps among the reasons that rural parts of the state are unattractive to some people to live or do business in, my Greater Minnesota friends, is that so many of you spend so much time sitting in lawn chairs, dressed in camo, and complaining about gay marriage, while you polish your guns. Just a thought.

– o O o –

And who can forget about the contributions to discourse on the issue by the charming Linda Runbeck, the Circle Pines Republican who wanted to cut out Local Government Aid for Minneapolis a few years ago because it was just making Minneapolis “dependent.” Like Mary Franson’s bears, I guess.

I don’t know if this was vile, or just titanically ignorant. I’m betting on the former, because Runbeck had to know that a lot of burgs around Minnesota get a much bigger percentage of their municipal budgets from LGA than Minneapolis does, and Minneapolis is a huge net contributor to the pot, while say, Circle Pines, is not.

– o O o –

In conclusion — sweet words, I know, dear readers — I say to Greater Minnesota: whining is not a good long-term economic strategy. Many people in the metro area have roots and family in Greater Minnesota, and we’re invested in your success, too. But please don’t try to tear down The Cities to build yourselves up. It won’t work; it’s counterproductive.

Update: Commenter Alan writes:

As usual, the DFL is doing a lousy job of countering this anti-metro Republican rhetoric. They really need to get some PR geniuses on this issue to get their message out and soon. It would be well worth their while to part with some cash and put some skilled manpower on this. Some days I’m not sure Thissen and Bakk understand how politics works. They may understand public policy, but if they don’t get people behind them, enacting good public policy won’t be possible.

Steve adds: It was clearly a hand-in-glove — yes, coordinated — strategy between the Republican House Caucus and the Minnesota Action Network during the campaign.

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