ST. PAUL — Legislative session 2015 dawned with plenty of bipartisan talk about funding for Greater Minnesota being a top priority.
But a GOP House committee’s decision to put no money into broadband development has the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities questioning whether that Republican commitment was serious.
“The House GOP’s decision to put $0 into broadband essentially kills the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program,” said Ely Councilor and President of the CGMC Heidi Omerza.
“The lack of high-speed broadband continues to be one of the most pressing issues for committees and businesses across the state. It is deeply concerning that the House GOP has chosen to eliminate the funding needed to expand this vital service.”
The CGMC, rural lawmakers and Greater Minnesota newspaper editorial pages advocated strongly for Border-to-Border Broadband last year. The program was eventually established with bipartisan legislative backing for $20 million instead of the $100 million sought, and even though Gov. Mark Dayton came late to lend any support.
Earlier this year, the first 17 grant recipients of $19.2 million in broadband grants were announced. They were chosen out of dozens of applicants who sought more than $44 million in funding.
“The need and desire for better broadband service is overwhelming,” Omerza said. “City and community leaders across Greater Minnesota can’t understand why, with a $1.9 billion budget surplus, the legislators in the House can’t even match the modest $30 million that Governor Dayton included for broadband in his budget proposal.”
The decision not to fund broadband by the House Job Growth & Energy Affordability Finance Committee is far from the final say on the issue. In fact, it could be considered the first of many skirmishes in the session over broadband funding.
The session has about five weeks to go, and the serious bargaining is still a couple weeks away. There will be House and Senate differences on the issue, conference committee negotiations and the governor will certainly have his say in those talks and then would have to sign off on any final bill.
But Omerza and others with the CGMC said it will take grassroots Greater Minnesota lobbying to reverse the House committee’s decision.
“We are calling on civic groups, community leaders, and editorial boards to join with us in asking the House Republicans to reconsider their decision and restore funding for the broadband program this year. We simply cannot allow our lawmakers to stifle economic growth in Greater Minnesota by refusing to fund this critical need,” Omerza said.