Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lawmakers aim to block state aid cuts for Duluth, Minnesota

Area legislators met with the Duluth City Council and Mayor Don Ness on Friday afternoon to discuss goals for the current legislative session. 
(Bob King,  Duluth News Tribune)

Duluth’s lawmakers likely will be playing plenty of defense this legislative session.

During a meeting with city councilors and Mayor Don Ness on Friday afternoon, District 7A Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, expressed concern that other legislators may target the amount of local government aid Duluth and the Twin Cities receive.

District 7B Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, also anticipates the city may need to fend off legislative attacks on some of the state funding it receives.

“I expect an onslaught of bills that will seek to decrease the amount of aid cities like Duluth will get,” he told the council.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, shared similar fears, saying: “There seems to be a lot of animosity towards Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul this session.”

Yet Reinert also sees opportunities for Duluth to garner support for more housing and other projects.

There has been talk on both sides of the aisle about the possibility of the Legislature rolling two sessions into one and tackling a bonding bill. This could be an attractive option while the Capitol building is in the midst of a disruptive overhaul.

But Simonson considers the prospect of a 2-in-1 session unlikely.

“We’re all of a mindset that we’ll be coming back. We’re not thinking they’ll be able to jam a full bonding bill through this session. It’s just not feasible,” he said.

Reinert concurred, saying: “I think almost everyone already is acknowledging there will be another session next year.”

Nevertheless, Reinert said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a modest bonding bill emerge from the current session, to be followed with a more substantial package of bonding projects next session.

Ness suggested Duluth pitch itself as “a destination aviation center.” He pointed to AAR Aircraft Services, the 148th Air National Guard Fighter Wing and Cirrus Aircraft as key entities that have made the city prominent in aviation circles.

But Ness stressed the need to nurture the growing sector, including Cirrus which he said is expected to add 100 to 150 employees in coming months to support the production of its popular SR-series of piston-engine planes. He said still more jobs soon could arrive when the company launches production of its first private jet.

Duluth also may seek state aid to help with the reconstruction of Superior Street and the possible simultaneous installation of infrastructure to support a new hot-water district heating system to replace the less efficient and leaky steam lines that currently serve much of the city’s downtown.

Money to help renovate or replace Duluth’s outdated and inefficient main public library could be sought, as well.

“It’s a project that’s important to our community, and it has a big price tag,” Ness said.

Additional money to renovate Wade Stadium also is on the mayor’s wish list.

Simonson urged city councilors and Ness to pick their top-priority project so he and his peers serving in the Legislature can advocate for it.

“A lot of projects are in the pipeline already,” Simonson said. “If we’re going to push for something, we’ll need to do it soon.”

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