In 2008, Minnesota voters overwhelmingly approved the Legacy Amendment in part to support parks and trails. However, since then the state general fund appropriation for parks and trails has been cut and has yet to return to its previous inflation-adjusted level, forcing efficiency improvements and service cuts. In the meantime, visits to state parks have increased by 25 percent just since 2012, and have hit record numbers, and state trails see millions of user visits each year.
To help fill the funding gap, the Department of Natural Resources has suggested a number of fee increases, while being sensitive to not wanting to discourage use. However, that still falls short of the need, and more cuts will be necessary. The Legislature, on the other hand, wants to deny those increases and at the same time cut the general fund appropriation for parks and trails from this year’s level. That would lead to even more cuts in services, programs and maintenance.
Obviously our parks and trails are important to our residents. They also contribute to our health and well-being and provide billions of dollars in economic benefit to the state. Cutting funding in times of a large budget surplus should be unacceptable.
Instead, the Legislature should follow the governor’s lead and do its part by increasing the general fund appropriation for parks and trails. This is reasonable when the total appropriation would amount to about fifteen-hundredths of 1 percent (0.15 percent) of the general fund, and when the benefits are so widespread.
Steve Cook, Hutchinson, Minn.
The writer is a former mayor of Hutchinson and current member of the City Council.
In Minneapolis, extreme politics, a mirror of D.C.
There is a striking parallel at work today with the politics in Washington and here in the City of Lakes. In Washington, President Trump has assembled a Cabinet and administration with little to no government experience who are making dramatic changes to their departments with little to no understanding of the implications or of how their agencies function, and who are paying lip service to people who protest, dismissing their concerns and positioning those who complain as the problem.
Here in Minneapolis, we have a mayor and City Council with little to no private-sector experience, who are making dramatic changes to how businesses operate in the city, paying lip service to the small-business owners and workers who have raised the caution flag, and positioning employers’ treatment of workers as the root of inequality in the city.
The drumbeat of requirements current and future, such as mandatory sick time, West Coast-level minimum-wage requirements and last year’s failed attempt to take workplace scheduling decisions away from employers, all are driven by special-interest groups from the progressive left wing of politics, just as the antigovernment assault on regulations and government agency work in D.C. is driven by special-interest groups from the far right wing.
The casualties of the dysfunction in Washington are becoming more apparent each day. When will we start to see the signs of damage here at home of our own flavor of extreme politics?
Michael Hess, Minneapolis
Spending cuts? Sure. But not at the expense of our retirement.
I read the April 17 commentary from the two writers who work with the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation (“Where do our tax dollars really go? Entitlements”). It’s fun to play with numbers and use buzzwords, isn’t it?
By their reasoning, “entitlements” are the big users of your federal tax dollars — not the nearly $1 trillion a year spent on defense. First off, Social Security is a separate line item from federal taxes on your income. It is not an entitlement, but rather an investment in a retirement plan. If there is concern about its fiscal health, add a 1 or 2 percent increase to income over the current cap. Wage earners at $200,000 per year pay a much smaller percentage of their income then do those under $100,000. Start this now and we can secure retirement funds for many more years to come. (Unfortunately, I don’t see our current Congress or administration doing this anytime soon).
The Heritage Foundation is devising a plan for $10 trillion in cuts over the next seven years. The way the article reads, those cuts will come from Social Security and Medicare, which are both separate from your tax dollars going to defense and corporate welfare, etc. I agree that spending cuts are needed, but please don’t include our retirement plan in those cuts.
Jim Barbeau, Champlin
ELECTION IN FRANCE
At least, with the runoff, a chance to think harder
Upon reading Scott Carpenter’s April 18 commentary on the upcoming French presidential election, I noticed he kind of skimmed over an important fact. Only two candidates head to the runoff. No alternative candidates or ranked-choice voting, but two candidates on the final ballot. These candidates came in first and second place in the first round, and that is who the public can chose from, like it or not, on the second and final ballot. It might be forcing the voter to choose between the lesser of two evils or abstain, but it might make some voters after the first of round of voting to actually think before casting their votes in the runoff.
William Cory Labovitch, South St. Paul
Super Bowl VOLUNTEERING
Don’t shill, Star Tribune
The brief article on the front page of the Minnesota section April 17 (“13K volunteer for Super Bowl, but committee needs more”) was appalling to me. The uber-rich NFL received free advertising for the recruitment of Minnesota citizens to volunteer for this event. First, how many nonprofit groups would be given such prominent treatment in their search for volunteers? These are organizations that provide much-needed services in the community. Second, who could most afford to run ads on their own, or buy e-mail lists, etc., to recruit volunteers? A local nonprofit or the NFL?
This was a bad choice by the Star Tribune, both in the decision to support the NFL free of charge and place it on the cover of the Minnesota section of the paper.
Steve Williams, Minneapolis
BOSTON MARATHON AND GENDER
My own legacy
Rereading the coverage about Kathrine Switzer and her historic Boston Marathon (“Running path is clearer now,” April 17, and “50 years later, she runs marathon again,” April 18), I thought I should mention my connection to the race history. Incidentally, I ran Boston three times and stopped running marathons after I ran 50 because I couldn’t figure out what the next goal should be. Boston had two qualifying times for men, with an easier one for older men but only one for women. Seeing this as unfair, and since I had qualified at the regular pace, I thought I should take this issue on for other women. Jock Semple (the attacker of Switzer) was quite dismissive, saying they were doing enough for women. Fortunately, the chief staff to the mayor of Boston, Elaine Noble, was a former legislator and a friend of mine, and I contacted her saying that such a discriminatory race would not be permitted to run in any Minnesota city. The rules changed, and I have a very nasty acknowledging letter from Jock Semple.
I also am proud to hold the fastest marathon time of any sitting Minnesota legislator! (Now up for grabs.)
Phyllis Kahn, Minneapolis
The writer is a former member of the Minnesota House.