Legislators - If You Want Our Support Do This
by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News
With the 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature underway, Republicans control both the Minnesota House and Senate primarily for one reason – the voters in rural Minnesota. Republicans have a commanding hold on to the House with a 76-57 majority. In the Senate, Republicans took control away from the Democrats, but by the barest of margins – one seat. They have a 34-33 majority.
As you look at the Legislature, Republicans who have promised to look after rural voters to reward them for their support heavily represent rural Minnesota.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has another two years left in his term and will be butting heads with Republicans on much of what they propose. But Democrats also recognize that they need to do a much better job of connecting with rural voters if they want to win back the House and Senate in two years as well as hold on to the governorship.
With all those people saying they want to work for rural Minnesota it shouldn’t be too difficult to see legislation passed that helps those of us living outside the Twin Cities improve our lives and make our businesses stronger. But, as we all know, promises and reality have little in common when it comes to politics.
Still, we would like to point out to the politicians in St. Paul what we think rural Minnesota needs.
Our rural population is declining, leaving businesses struggling to find employees. This is a critical challenge with extreme consequences for rural Minnesota if it is not met. But even at peak unemployment in Minnesota and the U.S. back in 2007-2008, it was nearly impossible to get people to move to rural areas to fill job vacancies.
Economic development programs do little good for rural communities if we don’t have the people to fill the job openings those programs seek to create. The job training programs help, but for every person that enrolls we need four more to sign up – but they don’t live in rural Minnesota.
There are stories of how individual companies and a few communities are working on their own to address the problem, but their measures fall far short of meeting the need.
What programs can the state develop that are aimed at “people creation” rather than just job creation? What are the roadblocks keeping people from moving to small towns? What can the Legislature do to remove these roadblocks with incentives? These are questions the state has yet to address.
Child care services
One of the most pressing challenges in rural Minnesota is providing adequate infant and toddler care for our young families. Schools don’t get funding to do it. Cities and counties have trouble seeing it as their responsibility when they have buildings and roads to maintain; when their priorities are on law enforcement, social services, water and sewer systems, ditches, and other services they are required to provide citizens.
But adequate child care services are essential to economic development and the health of rural schools and communities.
A lack of adequate child care can keep young families from taking jobs in small towns and moving to them. When young families can’t find child care services in the small towns where they live, they take their children to bigger regional cities where it is available. Young women who could be in the workforce, and often want to be, stay home taking care of their children.
When families they take their children out of town, they often begin to look for jobs in the communities where their children have child care. As a result, the local school loses the state education funding those students would have brought in - over $7,000 per student. It also means local businesses lose employees who are hard to replace.
Small rural communities also face the continuing challenge of giving their children the same educational opportunities as those who attend school in larger cities. While some of the big schools offer a wide array of classes our schools are constantly looking for places to cut as declining school enrollment means fewer state dollars coming in.
We cut language programs, art classes, and sections of music lessons. We can’t offer the same science and math classes, the government and social science classes, business and accounting courses, and the technology classes the bigger schools can.
If Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature want to help rural Minnesota, make our school funding a priority so our children have the same rich educational opportunities that students in the big cities have.
We send our children away to attend college and technical schools where they get a good education. But then they too often settle down in the Twin Cities or other big city where they meet the needs of employers, buy homes, have children, send kids to their schools, and shop at their stores. How about investing something back in rural Minnesota for all we give you.
Support the Prairie Correctional Facility
Of all 87 counties in Minnesota no county saw a greater turnaround in its numbers voting Democratic to voting Republican than Swift County. Only four times in 100 years has Swift County voted Republican – 2016 was the first time since 1952.
If Democrats want to win back Swift County, and if Republicans want to hold on to it, fight for the reopening of the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton. It once provided up to 350 jobs for people living in 24 rural Minnesota counties. It provided a payroll of $13 to $15 million for the region.
Proceed with sentencing reform, reduce the numbers who need to be jailed for drug offenses, but when state prison beds are still full and you are still using county jails to house state inmates, act to invest in rural Minnesota by using the Appleton prison.