Our View: Focused message emerges in lobbying blitz
ST. PAUL — So what was the No. 1 top priority at the 21st annual Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol citizen-lobbying event?
Winning legislative favor for a half-percent sales tax for Duluth so we can finally fix our potholed streets, sure. But after that there seemed to be nearly as many goals and wishes as there were Northlanders who met with lawmakers during the day Tuesday, who attended a home show-style reception Tuesday night, and who'll wrap up the two-day lobbying blitz with a legislative breakfast this morning. More than 500 were expected to participate in all.
"You don't want to diffuse the message with too many requests, but, really, when you distill it down ... it's still a focused message," David Ross, president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, insisted in an an interview at Tuesday night's reception with the News Tribune Opinion page. "It's nice for our decisionmakers to have some choices as to what resonates with them, which (request) holds appeal. So our hope is that we have not too few and not too many but just the right amount of requests.
"There's beauty in pulling together all kinds of folks who have different priorities, too," Ross added.
"There were a number of different individual messages, yes, but I think there was a consistent theme," said Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth, who met with dozens of the citizen lobbyists from the event, including students from Duluth East and Denfeld high schools. "They want to get behind the Duluth projects that are being proposed for the bonding bill. That's important. Investing in jobs and infrastructure is always good.
"There are always going to be a lot of needs," Simonson also said. "Bringing attention to all those needs, even if we don't do them all now, sets us up for future subsequent sessions."
"It speaks to the times the fact that there are so many projects being lobbied for that are infrastructure-related," Jeff Anderson, a former city councilor, a staff member for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, and a longtime veteran of the event said. "It speaks to the need both on the state level and the federal level to help communities like Duluth or Hermantown or Virginia or Two Harbors. They need financial assistance to meet their residents' needs."
At Tuesday night's reception inside the Intercontinental St. Paul Riverfront hotel, Carol Valentini of Valentini's Vicino Lago restaurant on London Road handed out Italian treats. She hasn't missed a "Duluth days," as the event used to be called, in years, she said — because there are so many needs.
"This event gives us an opportunity, of course, to talk to the Legislature about things that are important to us. But more importantly, it allows people from our area to talk to each other and build that support system," she said. "We need that in Duluth to get things done. It's important."
"It is that engagement," said Erin Metzger, clinic manager for outpatient mental health services for St. Luke's. This was her third time lobbying as part of the event, this time for $30 million for competitive grants to build regional centers where Minnesotans can go when they're in a mental health crisis. Too many of them now end up in emergency rooms or jails. The centers will help them better get the help they need.
"It was a very positive tone this year. Collaborative. It seems there's a lot of discussion happening right now, and it seems to be both sides of the aisle are willing to come together."
That's good news — especially with so many priorities brought by Northeastern Minnesotans to the state Capitol this year.
AMONG THE REQUESTS
Projects and funding being lobbied for during the 21st annual Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol include:
- Legislative approval to create a half-percent sales tax in Duluth to fund street repairs
- $10 million in bonding to repair failing seawalls behind the DECC and alongside the William A. Irvin
- $5.75 million in bonding to match funds being provided by the county to make overdue repairs to the 125-year-old Depot in downtown Duluth
- Funds to finish the Duluth Steam Plant conversion
- $4 million as a match for fixes at Glensheen
- $2.2 million for upgrades to the Northeast Regional Corrections Center workhouse
- $5.3 million for a project to produce heat from methane-rich biogas now being wasted at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District facility
- Funding to address Minnesota's opioid crisis
- $30 million for competitive grants to create regional crisis centers for mental health