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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published October 27 2010

Governor candidates seek rural votes

ST. PAUL – Minnesota’s three major governor candidates picked up the pace of their rural campaigns in recent weeks after a barrage of Twin Cities debates and fundraising needs kept them off the farm and out of many communities.

Campaigning away from big-city lights features one favorite question, especially from city officials, about Local Government Aid, state payments designed to pump cash into city coffers when local property taxes cannot support basic services.

All three would keep some form of LGA.

Democrat Mark Dayton and Tom Horner of the Independence Party suggest keeping LGA much as it is. Republican Tom Emmer would dramatically limit the aid to be spent on only a few important things.

Horner said the formula that divides up the aid needs to be changed so cities that need it most get the money.

But he said rural communities need more than LGA. He told an Alexandria audience that rural nursing homes face a crisis and the state should step in to help.

Dayton said he would keep LGA at current levels, at least through the next two-year budget.

The Democrat said cities already have had to cut services. Alexandria, for instance, did not fill two police officer positions and cut back on street repair, Dayton said.

If Emmer is elected, cities could face a $700,000 LGA cut. He said LGA spending should be limited to a few crucial items, such as sewer and water facilities. Emmer still is thinking about whether street work should be funded by LGA, but libraries, the arts and other programs certainly would not.

“I want to eliminate it the way it is today,” Emmer said.

He would reduce pricey mandates the state has placed on local governments, which should free up some local funds.

Emmer visited a Little Falls-area turkey farm recently and heard the same thing he did at beef, hog and grain farms. Farmers do not like state regulations, as they exist, Emmer said.

He wants all agriculture-related rules to be enforced by the farmer-friendly state Agriculture Department.

As Dayton traveled past corn and soybean fields, he said good mobile telephone and Internet coverage are “real economic necessities for Greater Minnesota.”

Rural transportation is an important issue to many around the state, Dayton said. His budget would provide more funding.

Horner has made it clear he does not like ethanol subsidies. The relatively small payments left in the program would remain untouched in a Horner administration, but he would not be keen on new subsidies as a new generation of ethanol appears.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co. Al Edenloff of the Alexandria Echo Press contributed to this story.