MinnPost reporter Greg Aamot, one of the most knowledgeable media observers on public policy affecting Greater Minnesota, interviewed us at length for a preview of legislative initiatives aimed at revitalizing rural regions and closing the rural-metro divide. From his recent article : “Meanwhile, a think tank that's been focused on issues related to the rural economy, Growth & Justice, hopes to build on a list of a dozen priorities it released during last year’s session. Besides a bonding package and child care needs, among other issues, the organization would like to see more broadband expansion and investment in a program that helps to equip workers with enhanced skills for technical jobs. ‘We’ve got to be able to hold all of these issues up at the same time and understand how they all interrelate,’ said Growth & Justice President Jane Leonard, who joined the organization in January.”
Growth & Justice has always emphasized good-government principles _ accountability and effectiveness _ in our advocacy for more equitable public policy and more investment in human capital and physical infrastructure. Good intentions are not enough, as many leaders have said, from both sides of the aisle. That case was strongly reinforced by former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson in an interview published recently by the Civic Caucus. From a summary of the lengthy interview: “Carlson says we must get back to a system that de-emphasizes politics and emphasizes public policy. Carlson believes the next governor should start out by convening a major commission on the future that could plan the state's financial future, bringing in all the various sectors that form Minnesota's economy. The commission should be independent of the governor, but should have input into how the state agencies are governed. He also believes we should re-establish the State Planning Agency, which was formed in 1965 and abolished in 2009.”
There’s a lot to like in a recent report to President Trump by the USDA’s Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. The essential findings resonate with our own rural equity policy framework. There’s little or no content in the extensive report with anti-immigrant, anti-government or anti-urban themes. Instead, it finds a constructive consensus that rural areas need more investment in their human capital and physical infrastructure. The report describes broadband and “e-connectivity’’ as “fundamental for economic development...and an improved quality of life.” Rather than calling for shrinking government and cutting taxes, the report states that “a high quality of life is the foundation of prosperity’’ and that “economic indicators must be integrated with social indicators, like access to medical services,public safety, education and resilience.’’ The report also calls for investment in education and workforce skills, “to identify gaps, to work with all levels of educational institutions to provide career training and development, to fine-tune existing training programs, and to grow apprenticeship opportunities.”
"We think we ought to have the same push to have broadband connectivity all over the country because in the 21st century it is just as important as a telephone, water, sewer, roads...It has become an infrastructure of necessity." U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, last June, explaining to reporters that private investors haven’t found rural areas as profitable as urban ones, making a greater federal role in expanding broadband appropriate.