LGA, rural issues separate governor hopefuls

Minnesota’s three major governor candidates picked up their rural campaigns in recent weeks, after a barrage of Twin Cities debates and fund-raising needs keep them off the farm and out of many communities.

Campaigning away from big-city lights features one favorite question, especially from city officials, about Local Government aid, state payments designed to pump cash into city coffers when local property taxes cannot support basic services.

All three would keep some form of LGA.

Democrat Mark Dayton and Tom Horner of the Independence Party suggest keeping LGA much as it is. Republican Tom Emmer would dramatically limit the aid to be spent be spent on only a few important things.

Horner said the formula that divides up the aid needs to be changed so cities that need it most get the money.

But, Horner said, rural communities need more than LGA. He told an Alexandria audience that rural nursing homes face a crisis and the state should step in to help.

Dayton said he would keep LGA at current levels, at least through the next two-year budget.

The Democrat said that cities already have had to cut services. Alexandria, for instance, did not fill two police officer positions and cut back on street repair, Dayton said.

If Emmer is elected, cities could face a $700,000 LGA cut. He said that LGA spending should be limited to a few crucial items, such as sewer and water facilities. Emmer still is thinking about whether street work should be funded by LGA, but libraries, the arts and other programs certainly would not.

“I want to eliminate it the way it is today,” Emmer said.

Emmer would reduce pricey mandates the state has placed on local governments, which should free up some local funds.

Minneapolis and St. Paul would lose money in an Emmer administration. At first, Emmer said, he thought that Duluth might, too, but now is not sure that northeastern Minnesota city would lose because it has special needs.

Still, he admitted in an interview, “This is an area that I don’t know that I’m right.”

Emmer visited a Little Falls-area turkey farm recently and heard the same thing that he did at beef, hog and grain farms. Farmers do not like state regulations, as they exist, Emmer said.

He wants all agriculture-related rules to be enforced by the farmer-friendly state Agriculture Department.

As Dayton traveled past corn and soybean fields, he said that good mobile telephone and Internet coverage are “real economic necessities for greater Minnesota.”

Dayton knows. He has traveled across the state in the campaign, carrying phones from two carriers to stay in touch.

It has not worked. Going from Moose Lake to Hibbing, for instance, “I have no coverage on either one of them.”

To drive home the point, the Democrat added that he used his phone to exchange e-mail with his sons when he was in Tibet, but that is not always possible in Minnesota.

Rural transportation has under-discussed, Dayton said, but that is an important issue to many around the state. His budget would provide more funding for such needs, including federal money not now being used.

Horner has made it clear that he does not like ethanol subsidies. The relatively small payments left i the program would remain untouched in a Horner administration, but he would not be keen on new subsidies as a new generation of ethanol appears.

However, Horner said, he does favor spending state money to research and develop the new plant-based fuel.

“There are things a government needs to do to prime the pump,” he said.

Like with ethanol, Horner does not like the Rural Opportunity Building Zones law that gives tax breaks to companies to locate in rural Minnesota. However, he would not cancel tax breaks already awarded.

In other election news:

– Newly released campaign finance reports show Dayton spent $4.2 million this year, through Oct. 18. In the last two years, Dayton spent almost $5 million, nearly $4 million coming in loans to himself. Much of Dayton’s spending was to win the Aug. 10 primary election against two major Democratic-Farmer-Laborite opponents.

– Emmer follows Dayton with $2.3 million in 2010 spending and Horner trails with $1.2 million.

– Emmer had the most money on hand on Oct. 18, $461,000. That is more than twice as much as Dayton, with Horner a distant third.

– The three major governor candidates have three joint appearances left, all in St. Paul: a public television debate at 7 p.m. Friday and a public radio one at 4 p.m. Sunday, as well as a “job interview” tonight.

– Emmer plans to campaign in Lino Lakes, North Branch, Princeton and Long lake today.

– If his voice holds out (he had laryngitis earlier this week), Dayton continues a jobs tour today and Thursday.

– New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsed Emmer, saying he is the candidate who can help Minnesota gain jobs and improve the economy.

– Former DFL governor candidates Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza are campaigning for Dayton across Minnesota as the election nears.

– Former U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, known as a moderate, has endorsed GOP attorney general candidate Chris Barden.

– A trio of Republican candidates begins a statewide tour today in Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, St. Cloud and Alexandria. They are Barden, State Auditor hopeful Pat Anderson and Dan Severson, who is running for secretary of state.

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