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Veto of wind energy proposal ‘disappointing’  

Local educators and legislators are disappointed.

Grand Meadow Public Schools superintendent Joseph E. Brown; Gary Kuphal, superintendent of Southland Public Schools; Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin; Sen. David H. Senjem, R-Rochester; Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin; Rep. Robin Brown, DFL-Albert Lea; and Rep. Randy Demmer, R-Hayfield and all universally dejected.

During the last night of the 2008 Minnesota Legislative session, Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the wind energy production tax revenue proposal for Minnesota’s rural school districts.

Pawlenty held a gun to the head – figuratively speaking – of legislators, threatening to veto the property tax relief bill if the wind energy production tax revenue provision was in the bill.

“I was in Southland that day visiting with Gary Kuphal for our regular superintendents’ meeting,” Brown recalled. “Here I was driving up and down Mower County roads and everywhere I went there were wind turbines, generating electricity from the wind.

“When I heard the news, I literally got sick to my stomach,” Brown said. “Districts like Grand Meadow and Southland were about to lose again.”

Sparks said the two bills introduced in the 2008 session that would have granted school districts a 6 percent share of the win energy production tax revenues had bi-partisan support, including one he and Senjem co-authored.

“When the governor could agreed to give the school districts even a 6 percent cut of the tax revenues, I think we were all very disappointed,” Sparks said. “Joe Brown came up to the legislature and testified on behalf of rural school districts getting a share.

“We will work on it again next year. That’s all we can do,” Sparks, a two-term senator, said.

Every legislator surveyed shared Brown’s and Sparks’ dejection.

After all, taking away wind energy tax revenues from financially struggling rural school districts deals them a blow.

“With the increase in per pupil student aid funding and that’s about $20,000 next year – that will about cover the anticipated increase in fuel costs for our buses,” said Brown. “I will still have to cut one teacher: Our band instructor.”

They may not be planning to send pictures of teachers who will lose their job because of a lack of critical funding, including wind energy revenues, but legislators are grimacing too.

“I was disappointed that we were unable to reinstate the wind energy production tax revenue during this session,” said Brown, the wife of the Grand Meadow superintendent and an on-leave Albert Lea teacher. “I fought hard to reinstate the funding, as did Representative Poppe and Senator Sparks. In the end, the governor made it clear that he did not support this source of school funding and it was removed from the tax bill.

Demmer had his own take on what happened.

“I am very disappointed that the wind energy production tax offset language wasn’t repealed,” Demmer said. “Some of us worked very hard to get this done. I know the language was in the last tax committee conference report but it must have been removed in the final negotiations during the last day or 2 of session.

Another take on the legislation’s rise and fall in the 2008 session came from Poppe, who found the state’s clean energy initiatives also suffered because of the veto.

“I was pleased at the progress made in raising awareness of the issue since on the House side we turned around the education finance chair, so she went from being an opponent to becoming an ally,” Poppe said of the stratagems started.

“In the end, the wind energy production tax revenue proposal was one of the items categorized as ‘veto-bait’ by the governor,” observed Poppe. “It is disappointing that what is helping to meet the alternative energy requirements throughout the state, is also being targeted as an inequitable funding stream to our local, rural school districts,” she said.

Then, Poppe returned to focus on education funding.

“There is no doubt education funding changes will need to be made, sooner rather than later for the good of all Minnesota children,” she said. “What is most inequitable is when rural Minnesota school children are left behind and other students from school districts with greater property tax base are allowed to prosper and succeed.”

During the last night of the legislative session, Pawlenty nixed the wind energy production tax revenue for rural school districts. He threatened to veto the property tax relief bill if the wind energy production tax section was in the bill.

Last words on the subject came from the school superintendent, Joe Brown.

“I am obviously disappointed for the Grand Meadow school district,” he began. “This will result in a revenue loss of $50,000 in 08-9 and a $75,000-$100,000 revenue loss on an annual basis starting in 09-10.

“I will continue to work with regional legislators from the House and Senate to correct this financial injustice,” Brown promised. “At a time when rural school districts are struggling financially, I am extremely upset with the action of Governor Pawlenty.”

By Lee Bonorden

The Austin Daily Herald

31 May 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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