Dakota County’s top legislative priority — a comprehensive transportation funding package — fell through this year. But officials noted some successes, particularly in health and human services, as they took stock of the Minnesota Legislature’s regular session.
The county’s lobbyist and Minnesota Inter-County Association (MICA) officials on Tuesday reviewed how the county fared — at least so far. Officials will need to weigh the outcome of the Legislature’s special session to figure out impacts to county parks, natural resources and economic development.
“We’re kind of in a state of uncertainty,” MICA Executive Director Keith Carlson said.
Transportation is one topic where the end result is certain. The Legislature passed a so-called “lights on” bill, which maintains the status quo. Proposals for a sales tax in the metro area to cover transit projects and a gas tax to pay for bridge, road and transit construction did not pan out.
“We really anticipated this was going to be the year for transportation,” Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler said. “The need just gets greater and the cost just keeps getting higher. And I think that’s the major disappointment of the session.”
“Greater powers that be, you know, they just couldn’t get it done,” she said.
Dakota County officials also had their dream of Metropolitan Council reform dashed.
Commissioner Chris Gerlach, who led that charge for the county, said he hoped they would come out of this session with a committee in place to review how the regional planning agency is structured.
No committee was formed, but Gerlach was not deterred. He plans to meet with agencies and cities and “build the momentum” over the next year.
“We’re going to keep promoting this issue during the interim and take another run at it next session,” he said.
On a brighter note for the County Board, the health and human services outcomes were generally positive, MICA lobbyist Nancy Silesky said Tuesday.
Counties received a funding boost to add child protection staff.
However, Minnesota’s funding still lags behind some other states and counties end up subsidizing a significant amount of the child welfare program, Community Services Director Kelly Harder said.
The Legislature passed two “hidden gems that have long-term impacts” in health and human services, County Manager Brandt Richardson said.
One would streamline how counties review someone’s assets to determine whether they are eligible for a social service program. The change will save staff time, Harder said.
The other will help counties and the state evaluate the return on taxpayers’ investments in corrections and human services programs. Agencies will be able to determine how cost-effective a program is based on a method developed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“We know we spend, we spend, we spend. We don’t know what our return on investment is,” Harder said.