My Point of View: Are you rich enough to vote Republican in the election?
My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson
The state Legislature is back for another special session, and Minnesota has an additional opportunity to finally pass a bonding bill this year. Will our local representative, Peggy Bennett, be servile to Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and vote “no” again? Or will she put the needs of her constituents first?
In early August, Rep. Bennett claimed in a Facebook post that the Blazing Star Trail and U.S. Highway 65 flood mitigation projects couldn’t move forward without full funding, and she voted against the last bonding bill in part because they were only partially funded. She said the money amounts in the bill would have been “unusable” for what the projects require.
Legally, no bonding bill money can be allocated for a project unless the funding moves the project forward in a specific way that matches the dollar amount, so this explanation doesn’t wash.
In the July bonding bill legislation, the Blazing Star Trail project included $1 million for “engineering of all phases, and wetlands and public waters mitigation for the Blazing Star Trail.” Thus, the partial funding of the total $1.8 million project would have moved the project forward, but not financed the building of the bridge.
As for the Highway 65 project, which was partially funded at $800,000, the money would have covered “preliminary design, final design and right of way acquisition if needed, environmental remediation, site preparation,” etc.
That partial funding would not have covered the actual road raise. However, there was another pot of money ($84 million) under the trunk highway bond article of the bill. The Highway 65 project is eligible to apply for a grant through MnDOT for the rest of the funding of this project out of those funds. We are in MnDOT District 6, and this project is already on its “shovel ready” list. This means we might have been able to get funding for the remainder of the $3.5 million project through a MnDOT grant.
The next bonding bill is anticipated this week. I’m anxiously awaiting what funding Rep. Bennett has negotiated for these projects this time (and the $7.5 million Fountain Lake project which was completely unfunded in the July version of the bonding bill) after she promised in August to fight for full funding.
Remember that Bennett has leverage with Democratic leadership. A supermajority is required to pass the bonding bill, so they need Republican votes. Albert Lea also experienced staggering economic losses due to Mayo Clinic stripping our hospital for parts shortly after the Legislature provided a whopping $585 million to support Mayo’s Destination (i.e. Consolidated) Medical Center plan. The House DFL is much more sympathetic to our plight than the Republican minority leadership. Will Bennett employ these advantages, or will she defer once more to Daudt?
We need a leader with vision to represent our district in these challenging times, not a follower. A completed Blazing Star Trail would have been a boon to Albert Lea as an outdoor amenity during the pandemic this year. The project keeps getting stalled, and six years into her role, Rep. Bennett has been part of the obstruction. We’ve missed opportunities for investments that support economic activity.
Governor Walz is doing a solid job of managing the state response to the pandemic, and Republicans have signaled that they only want to “open up” the state rather than constructively participate in developing a safer strategy. They are holding the bonding bill as one of their hostages to try to stop Walz from using his emergency executive powers. Will Rep. Bennett finally stop playing Daudt’s game?
Nearly 2,000 Minnesotans have died from COVID in six months. We are currently experiencing an outbreak in Freeborn County, including in a care facility, and the high school had to switch to distance-only learning this week.
Since the start of the pandemic, over 200,000 Americans have died, and 55 million workers have filed for unemployment. Meanwhile, America’s small club of billionaires have increased their wealth by $800 billion. This is a massive redistribution of wealth away from the middle and working classes, and Trump’s tax cuts of 2017 guarantee that regular folks won’t be getting much of it back.
So, while local Republicans offer window dressing, billionaires are field dressing the rest of us thanks to Republican tax policies. Rep. Bennett doesn’t even want billionaires to pay estate taxes once they’re dead. These policies have been hollowing out the middle class for my whole life, and now it is destabilizing our entire country.
Early voting has begun, and I’m voting for a leader who wants to invest in me and my community, not millionaires and billionaires. That’s why I’m voting for Thomas Martinez for 27A.
Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.