It is an honor to serve as your representative in St. Paul and as is the case every year, there is plenty to be encouraged about regarding the work accomplished in eleven weeks. Moreover, I am excited about the great bite on Lake Mille Lacs, including that of the walleye.
Speaking of walleye, among the accomplishments I am most proud of is the Mille Lacs economic relief package that I authored and was signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton last week.
Watching this bill become law is the most difficult challenge I have faced in my years as a legislator because it was a request for a special appropriation, the likes of which had never been requested. The reason? The economic harm done to the Mille Lacs area, because of the DNR’s abrupt and early closure of the walleye season, was not considered a “natural disaster”; thus, the area did not qualify for disaster aid.
However, thanks to the dedication and perseverance of local business owners, leaders and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, we were able to ensure the Mille Lacs area will receive the relief it needs.
To be specific, the relief program will aid businesses in the Lake Mille Lacs area affected by the shutdown of walleye fishing early last August.
A total of $3.5 million will be available for grants up to $50,000 and loans up to $100,000 with the program implemented through Mille Lacs County Administrator Pat Omen with assistance from the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
In addition, an appropriation of $300,000 to Mille Lacs Tourism will help to repurpose the area as a great place for friends and family to enjoy a variety of activities.
On top of the relief and the tourism dollars is a provision in the tax bill, yet unsigned when I wrote this column, to give authorization for the three affected counties – Mille Lacs, Crow Wing and Aitkin - to use property tax abatements for businesses that show a 10% reduction in gross receipts for a successive two-year period. The Department of Revenue will provide for $1.5 million to reimburse counties offering the abatement to businesses.
There is also a provision in the tax bill to allow for a change in the statewide business property tax that will assist the business community, so I hope the governor signs the bill.
When I first crafted the relief proposal, I envisioned the creation of a lottery ticket for the lake area because I was looking for ways to avoid using the surplus and to strive for at least $10 million. But I had to abandon this idea after I spoke with lottery officials who informed me that it would take over a year to implement such a ticket.
After learning this, I looked for other avenues including funding from the Game and Fish Fund as well as unclaimed lottery prize money. I was again met with a dead end.
Finally, after speaking with the Governor’s staff, I was able to secure the funding as long as we had the support of my colleagues in the legislature.
On that note, I would like to thank my colleagues in the House who overwhelmingly supported this legislation as well as the conference committee appointees who convinced the Senate to support this relief.
While nothing can truly replace the economic boost that the walleye fishing industry brings to the area, this assistance will help reduce the economic impact of the rules and regulations handed down from the DNR.
Have a wonderful weekend,