ELY - Northeast Minnesota residents may want to consider nailing a larger mailbox on their house by the next election cycle in 2018. If one thinks the deluge of political messages sent to them in the …
ELY - Northeast Minnesota residents may want to consider nailing a larger mailbox on their house by the next election cycle in 2018. If one thinks the deluge of political messages sent to them in the last several months was exorbitant, just wait for the next election, says State Sen. Tom Bakk.
Bakk, along with Rep. Rob Ecklund and other Ely-area elected officials, Congressional aides, agency representatives and officials were in attendance at a legislative forum Monday hosted by the Ely Area Economic Development Joint Powers Board.
The annual event, held at the Grand Ely Lodge, is typically held after the election and acts as a forum where political and public affairs and a wide range of topics can be discussed.
Bakk initiated the conversation with his thoughts on what has been called the most divisive election cycle in recent memory. “If you were tired of all the negative mail, people use it because it works,” Bakk said. “Until people start tuning it out when it shows up in your mailbox, people are going to keep sending it.”
He went on to describe the changes that voters have witnessed and are yet to see in the election cycle as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision called Citizens United.
“There is an incredible amount of money that is coming into campaigns now from other places,” Bakk said. “No one seems to know where it is coming from. Most of it is negative because it works. It is going to stay that way and get even worse. This is a free speech thing, the Supreme Court decided, and the challenge is, caucus leaders and candidates have totally lost control of the message because they are ground up by all this mail coming in.”
He said more money was spent in the U.S. Congressional 8th District race between Rick Nolan and Stewart Mills race “than every single Congressional district in California combined.” A lot of the material was negative and there will be a lot more coming, according to Bakk. “There’s nothing we can do to turn the flow off until people decide they are just going to tune it out,” he said. “It is difficult for candidates. We can’t control the message or get an opportunity to say what we would like to do if elected. There is so much stuff coming in from outside, we just get drowned out.” He stressed that it is important that those running for office try to minimize the impact of that increasing outside advertising.
Bakk also looked forward to the upcoming session of the Minnesota state legislature that commences on Jan. 3.
The last session was concluded in May. “We put a very good tax bill on the governor’s desk, unfortunately, because of a little typo (error) in it, he made the decision to veto it, along with the bonding bill because there were some provisions in there he didn’t like,” Bakk said.
Following the election last month, legislators again began the special session conversation to finish the budget and bonding bill legislation. “We met last Friday and made some good headway,” he said. “The governor has been a little reluctant on the tax bill because it actually spends money, around $650 million, in the next biennium and he is a little nervous about that. There are a lot of important provisions for northern Minnesota in that bill, including new local government aid that is permanently in the base.”
Bakk said efforts are underway by legislators to get the governor to agree to that as part of a special session, including various mayors making calls to the governor this week to include the tax bill in a special session.
He admitted that the bonding bill does not include many provisions for northern Minnesota. “There is a million for the Prospectors Loop trail,” he said. “There is some money for Virginia’s utility relocation related to the (Highway 53) bridge. There are a couple of projects for (International) Falls, like the airport and a sewer project. There is a new building for UMD that is very important.”
Dayton’s proposal for a tax rebate for the individual health insurance premium issue is also under discussion. “Everyone agrees that it is not the best proposal but it is something that can actually be implemented,” Bakk said. “Something is likely going to happen pretty quickly. We looked at a tentative deadline of this Wednesday of what the special session is going to entail and a final draft by Dec. 16.”
He noted an important provision exists in the tax bill for Louisiana Pacific and their expansion on the Iron Range. “There is a lot of stuff and we’re doing all we can to close the loop,”
The new legislative session will see Bakk as minority leader, with Republicans holding a 34-33 advantage. “I have a decent relationship with the speaker of the house that I am hoping will be helpful,” Bakk said. “The incoming majority leader in the Senate (Paul Gazelka) is a Virginia Blue Devil, and when he called me after he was elected the very first thing he said was ‘Just remember, I am an Iron Ranger.’”
State Rep. Ecklund said his party is working on strategy for the upcoming session. “We have a larger Republican majority in the house now and we are going to have to figure out how to get things done,” Ecklund said.
He noted that one bill, “to increase the yield off of DNR lands,” will likely be resurrected in the next session. “If they’re carrying it and I’m number two, and we get it passed, that’s a good thing. I don’t want to do this for credit or glory, I want to do this for northern Minnesota. So if I can have a Republican lead on a bill that benefits us that would be a good thing to do,” he said.
Ecklund said he has put in for a number of committee assignments, including environment, finance, and policy committees. “In all reality, when we don’t have as many members, I may not get on all of them. I also put in for agriculture finance and transportation finance. Both of those areas are critical for northern Minnesota.”
He admitted that the DFL party will be “playing a lot of defense” at the start of the new session. “Last year, I was able to make some key allies on the other side of the aisle, especially on the environmental committee and hope to push the right agenda forward.”
St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina said during his 22 years at the state capital, 10 of those were in the majority. “I feel bad for Tom and Rob. It is a hard adjustment,” he said.
“We have a new atmosphere and both the state and the feds are talking about cutting taxes,” Rukavina said. “What this really means is that everyone in this room will see a property tax increase because they shift everything down to property taxes.”
He noted that “70-percent of corporations in America” pay zero corporate income tax. “And I didn’t get that information off of Facebook,” he said. “That’s a real fact.”
He warned that taxpayers in the Ely area should be prepared for property tax increases. “Our county is proposing an 8.5-percent increase. It might not hurt Ely and Morse (township) that much. Assessed values went down because of increased property sales, but it could be much higher than that depending on where you live,” he said.
He bemoaned the fact that most county tax dollars directly benefit Duluth. “My friends on the County Board always tell me that we are one county,” Rukavina said. “We have hired about 40 new people since I’ve been on the board, and I think 38 of them have been put in Duluth. It aggravates me. Last year we had two social workers retire out of Ely and they tried to move those positions out. I raised enough hell that they are still there.”
He said he continues to look for ways to cut the county budget. “I’m going to continue to do that because we have people that have been laid off at KeeTac for a year and a half now and vendors that haven’t hired people back. Our economy isn’t that great. When you’re on a fixed income, that extra 50 bucks could mean Christmas presents for a grandchild.”