Equity measure stripped from bill disappoints

• Zerwas, Kiffmeyer express shock that their efforts were thwarted in final hours of session


by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, describes it as the biggest disappointment of his legislative career.

He was referring to a proposal to increase funding for the Elk River Area School District.

In a meeting May 29 with the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce, Zerwas told how he and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, carried equity in education funding legislation in the last session. The measure passed the House and the Senate and was incorporated into the final education omnibus bill.

But at 1:30 a.m. during a meeting of the conference committee, the committee made a motion to remove that provision.

“I was shocked. Sen. Kiffmeyer was shocked,” Zerwas said.

He noted that students in the metro area get about twice the per-pupil funding allocated to students in Elk River and Big Lake.

“That’s just flat wrong,” Zerwas said.

He said he hopes they can make progress next year.

Zerwas and Kiffmeyer outlined the results of the 2014 legislative session during the “Talking Business” meeting with the chamber, held at the Guardian Angels corporate office in Elk River. Tom Emmer, who is running for U.S. House of Representatives in the 6th Congressional District, was also in attendance.

Zerwas is a former Elk River City Council member who was elected to the Minnesota House in 2012. He is up for re-election this fall.

Kiffmeyer, a state senator since 2012, previously was a state representative and Minnesota’s secretary of state.

Kiffmeyer said she has made transportation a top priority as a senator, given that some major highways — Interstate 94 and highways 10, 169 and 101 — run through her district.

Kiffmeyer was able to help get recent funding to expand I-94 between Rogers and St. Michael, and now has set her sights on getting funding to finish the 10-101-169 interchange in Elk River. Under the proposal, the stoplight at the top of the interchange would be eliminated and the last two lobes of the cloverleaf would be constructed.

She also is interested in seeing an adaptive signal control system added to key highway intersections in Elk River to help relieve congestion.

In other issues, the legislators noted that there was $10.5 million in the bonding bill for the historic Kelley Farm in Elk River. The money will provide for expanded educational programs supported by an improved visitor center and new farm buildings that are able to accommodate the growing number of people coming to learn about farming and food in the past, present and future.

Zerwas said the project is “desperately needed.” He noted that the farm is a state-owned asset, the Kelley Farm project was the Minnesota Historical Society’s top priority and thousands of students visit the Kelley Farm every year.

Three business-to-business sales taxes were also repealed during the 2014 session.