Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published Feb 6, 2003

Please Donít Hurt Us 
or Duluth Days in St. Paul  

Editor's note: Duluth Days is when Duluthians venture to the state capitol to lobby on behalf of the city. School board member Harry Welty reports on this yearĻs progress:

House speaker Steve Sviggum told the assembled Duluth boosters at the Duluth Days breakfast meeting that he intended to be fair and balanced in making spending decisions. This is what Ron, the school district's lobbyist, reported to me a few hours later while we sat through a meeting of the House Education Policy Committee. I asked him what Sviggum meant by "fair and balanced. Ron screwed up his face in a horrible grimace and made a throat slitting gesture across his neck. As I tried vainly to hold my laughing in check I peered guiltily over toward the legislators hoping they hadnít seen me. I didnít want to embarrass myself or Duluth.

This was my third Duluth Days and even more than before my role was strictly peripheral. I skipped the pricey breakfast and didnít do any lobbying. After suffering what may have been the final blow to my elective ambitions last fall I didnít have much interest in hobnobbing with the legislatureís power brokers. Heck, even if I got myself elected in the next go around the sixty or so new legislators would probably have eaten the pig long before I got to the luau. Judging by the stateís sorry deficit projections itís a pretty small pig.

As a school board member I initially took some comfort in all the rhetoric about holding K-12 education harmless. But that was then. Now it seems that it will only be state general fund expenditures for schools that will be held harmless. Duluthís schools are particularly vulnerable because we get a fair amount of non general fund revenue from the state. Our Community education revenue has already been chopped off.

State Desegregation funding, which pays for our three magnet schools, has been under attack by Republicans for a long time. Invigorated by their 29 vote margin in the House and facing a 5 billion shortfall this Duluth luxury will be a tempting target. Iím even more concerned about compensatory education funds. These revenues go to help children who come from impoverished circumstances. Suburban school districts donít get as much of this revenue as Duluth does. Reapportionment has created a lot more suburban legislators.

While it remains to be seen how much pain the school district suffers there is less doubt that the City Council will face really tough times. It looks like Duluth will suffer a 4.5 million cut in Local Governmental Aid from the State. Thatís a big chunk of change.

Last year, before the bottom dropped out of state revenue, I ponied up for the pricey Duluth Dayís breakfast. Thatís where I first heard Sviggum say he would consult with his northeastern Minnesota Republican delegation before dealing with Duluth ís many funding requests. He was just joshing. There were no Republican legislators from our part of the state. There still arenít. This was just one more reason why this yearís Duluth Dayís crew wasnít seeking additional funding for the City. The prevailing mood seemed to be ďplease donít hurt us.Ē If the legislature turns itís back on Duluth it wonít be for our lack of trying. Twice as many people went down to Duluth Days this year compared to last year. I thought the skate boarders doing spins on locally made ramps were an especially nice touch.

I read an optimistic estimate that ninety legislators had visited us in the Armory. I sure didnít see that many. When I asked Ron how many legislators he had seen he paused for a long time before blurting out ďfifty.Ē When I needled him about his long delay in answering he said that heíd seen about 35 legislators. Then he pointed out that  there were a lot of new legislators he still didnít know. There could have been a bunch of them noshing their way through the tasty treats our local chefs cooked up for them.

Unfortunately, all the gourmet food in Duluth wonít make up for our loss of clout due to death and retirement. This last election sent a lot of brand new eager beavers to the Capitol while Duluth returned its old war horses. I was a little dismayed to see one of our own gently dozing through the hearing I attended. It was a rather tedious discussion about making it easier for teachers to substitute after their retirement. Still, the thirty other legislators seemed reasonably alert.

All may not yet be lost. There has been some successful lobbying so far in this legislative session although itís come from the southern end of the state. Duluth City Councilor Jim Stauber introduced me to one of the Republican legislators while I stood by the School District ís booth. When someone asked him about Duluth ís prospects for legislative help he shrugged his shoulders and noted wryly that the legislature wasnít in a position to help much of anybody. I couldnít help but point out the success of the ethanol lobby.

Itís probably just as well that I didnít get elected. Iíd probably have just ended up irking the Republican Caucus the same way Iíve irked some of my fellow school board members.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com

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