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A fair look at taxes, sand, roads

Sen. Matt Schmit addresses Goodhue County Board at the Cannon Valley Fairgrounds Monday. Schmit was thanked for his work on silica sand legislation and for his part in securing funding for the Highway 52 and County Road 9 interchange project. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

CANNON FALLS -- Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, gave a recap of his inaugural legislative session to Goodhue County Board members Monday as they met at the Cannon Valley Fair. He highlighted the biennial budget and his work on local concerns like silica sand regulation and the Highway 52 and County Road 9 interchange.

"We got our work done on time," said Schmit, alluding to the 2011 budgeting process that resulted in the longest government shutdown in the state's history.

State Republicans criticized the budget for raising $2.1 billion in new taxes, including a controversial warehouse tax that has put construction of a $20 million Red Wing Shoes distribution center on hold.

Goodhue County Commissioner Ted Seifert questioned Schmit over the reasoning behind the tax, which charges companies for storing product at a third-party's warehouse.

Schmit explained that the tax is a remnant of a DFL push early in the legislative session to expand the sales tax base, but said he is now convinced it is not a good idea for border cities.

"The last thing we want to do is put a policy in place that would incentivize investment right across the river," said Schmit, adding that he will help lead the charge to repeal the tax before collection begins in April.

Local projects

Schmit made waves at the Capitol this spring by pushing for tougher regulations on silica sand mining, including authoring a provision to prohibit mines within a mile of trout streams in southeastern Minnesota.

One of the bills signed by Gov. Dayton will require the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to form silica sand technical advisory panel to assist counties and local governments with mining issues if requested.

The County Board approved a revised mining ordinance last month, the product of nearly a year of research by the county's Mining Study Committee.

"I know that a lot of work has taken place in Goodhue County," Schmit said. "And I hope that what we were able to accomplished is going to augment those efforts.

Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said the county will utilize the advisory panel if it receives silica mine applications once the county's mining moratorium ends Sept. 6.

"We're not big enough to have experts on staff for every mining issue that comes up," Rechtzigel said. "That (panel) is going to be a huge savings for our county."

Rechtzigel also joined the board in thanking Schmit for his efforts to help secure funding for an interchange at the dangerous intersection of Highway 52 and County Road 9 near Cannon Falls.

Schmit said he was proud of the level of cooperation achieved among the county, state government and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Commissioner Richard Samuelson said he was pleased to see the project funded, but voiced concern over how difficult the process was.

"It was like a puzzle," Samuelson said. "It shouldn't be that way when there's an intersection where people are getting killed."

Schmit said one of his priorities for next year will be an overhaul to transportation funding, adding that he expects the next legislative session to focus on state infrastructure.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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