The 2020 Minnesota legislative session is scheduled to start this Tuesday (Feb. 11).

Over the ensuing weeks, legislative leaders will discuss a wide variety of topics and will hear from constituents, local units of government, organizations and others who are looking for funding, policy changes or new laws that address their wants, needs and concerns.

One of the organizations that is actively involved in the process is the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, and this past Thursday (Feb. 6) it held a conference call with members of the state media to talk about its priorities during the session.

According to Bradley Peterson, executive director of the coalition, one of the major issues that is addressed each year is the state of local government aid (LGA), but Peterson said with the recent decision by the legislature to allocate funds reflective of what was provided in 2002 the coalition said it feels that it can now focus on other issues.

Among those issues is updating infrastructure for rural communities across the state. Peterson said passing a bonding bill is at the top of the list, and the coalition is hoping that there is a major investment in that bill to address those infrastructure needs, especially as it relates to wastewater and drinking water facility upgrades.

Greg Zylka, Little Falls mayor and vice-president of the coalition, said there are more than 300 cities statewide that have infrastructure projects in the works to upgrade water systems. 

The coalition is also placing an emphasis on the need to address child care. The coalition leaders said there is a significant child care shortage in rural Minnesota, where there is currently a need for 40,000 more spots.

“The child care shortage has significant economic impacts not only for families who can’t find care for their children, but also for the communities they live in and the local economies that affect that region,” said Don Hickman, vice-president for community and workforce development at the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls.“We have hit the point in Greater Minnesota where child care is one of the top factors – if not the top factor – for whether a family decides to move to or stay in one of our communities.”

During the 2019 session, the state approved an allocation of $1.5 million for child care initiatives and Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) child care grants, more than 70 percent of which went to rural Minnesota.

“The child care shortage has reached a crisis level in Greater Minnesota,” Hickman said. “We hope to work closely with the legislature to pursue several different options to begin to reduce that 40,000-slot shortfall.”

At the end of the day, rural Minnesota will judge state legislators not by what they talked about during the session, but what they actually passed and funded, Peterson said.

- Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Administration Web site