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My Point of View: Bennett not serving district with votes on bonding bill

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

 

Rep. Peggy Bennett seems to think she can restore full funding for Albert Lea’s projects in the next iteration of the house bonding bill, while also expecting the bill’s overall size to be sliced nearly in half. It should go without saying that her goal is untethered to reality, and our district will likely get a lot less than it could have.

Here are the Albert Lea projects that have been in the house bonding bill versions so far:

 

1. Bonding bill, as introduced

Blazing Star Trail: $1.75 million

Shell Rock River Watershed: $7.5 million

Highway 65 flood mitigation: $3.5 million

ALEDA: ?

Local total: ~$13 million

 

2. May 18 bonding bill, $2.4B package

Blazing Star Trail: $600,000

Shell Rock River Watershed: $7.5 million

Highway 65 flood mitigation: $2.136 million

Poultry processing (ALEDA): $250,000

Local total: ~$10.5 million

 

3. July 21 bonding bill, $1.8B package

Blazing Star Trail: $1 million

Shell Rock River Watershed: $0

Highway 65 flood mitigation: $800,000

Poultry processing (ALEDA): $0

Local total: ~$2 million

 

Rep. Bennett — who sits on the Capital Investment Committee and should be in a prime position to secure funding for local projects in our district — voted against both the May 18 and July 21 bills. At the time of her May vote, Bennett told the Albert Lea Tribune that she didn’t think the bill was “fiscally responsible” and that the bill was twice the size it normally is.

Of her vote against the July version of the bonding bill, which contained drastically reduced funding for Albert Lea projects, Bennett wrote on Facebook, “I will fight for all of our local projects to be included, and I will also fight for full funding for those projects so that they can be successful.”

Legislators usually try to get at least partial funding for projects to get some phases accomplished, but Bennett said that partial funding will not allow the Blazing Star or Highway 65 projects to move forward. And, obviously, with $0, the Shell Rock River Watershed project could go no further.

So, to recap, Bennett wants a much smaller bonding bill, around $1 billion, but she wants $11 million for Albert Lea projects restored to the bill.

This is quixotic to say the least. Since she twice voted against our district’s project funding, Rep. Bennett has put herself in a weak negotiating position when a bonding bill hopefully goes through in September. She is in the minority party, and instead of working in a bipartisan fashion with the majority to get the most for our district, she has followed Minority Leader Kurt Daudt’s marching orders to stonewall and put politics before people.

Bennett has potentially thrown away millions in constructive projects for our district, voting against them twice, each time with less money. Talk about diminishing returns.

Even Bennett’s claim that she wants to be fiscally responsible doesn’t hold water. Interest rates are extremely low right now and this is an advantageous time to borrow money for long-term investments in public infrastructure.

The bottom line is that Bennett is serving Kurt Daudt rather than our district. She will hopefully have one more chance to restore some money for our district’s projects. Which local projects will she prioritize? Which ones could move forward at least somewhat with partial funding? This would be nice to know rather than a vague promise to fight for full funding that she can’t fulfill.

Just six years ago, Shannon Savick, together with Sen. Dan Sparks, got more for our district in her first and only term in the Legislature ($7.5 million for Fountain Lake dredging) than Rep. Bennett is likely to get in her third term. When you see the dredge out on Fountain Lake, remember that DFLers got it done.

November is coming, and it’s high time for fresh representation in 27A. Vote for Thomas Martinez as our next state representative.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.