FFM Bulletin 1/11/11

Transparency, oversight issues shake Lake County broadband project

Commissioners in Lake County met last night and this morning to discuss how, and perhaps if, to move forward on a controversial taxpayer-funded broadband project. The county recently received a $56.4 million loan and $10 million federal grant under the stimulus package to build the fiber-optic network.  It is one of the biggest stimulus-funded broadband projects in the nation, and also one of the most controversial.
Essentially, Lake County plans to get into the telecom business and provide Lake County (and some St. Louis County) residents and businesses with phone, cable, and high-speed internet service. It’s worth noting that there are already multiple private sector providers that offer those services in Lake County.
The county is under fire for sloppy management of the fiber project, as well as poor oversight and a lack of transparency. See FFM’s Tom Steward’s op-ed in Sunday’s Duluth News Tribune.
The Lake County project is the antithesis of sound free market public policy, and it exposes local taxpayers to unnecessary risk. Even a local newspaper editorial in support of the project acknowledged: “Some bemoan the cost of the project but should remember that this isn’t free money. There is about $10 million in a grant from the Rural Utilities Service but the bulk of the $70 million project comes from a federal loan ($56 million) and bonding ($4 million). Yes, those are big numbers, and it’s a tall order for the county to make the project viable with an ability to pay back those funds through a sound service that customers want.”
This project has implications for free-market policy that extend far beyond the borders of Lake County. Stay tuned for more from FFM.

Education Minnesota offers its own education "reforms"

Teachers’ union Education Minnesota has unveiled a K-12 “reform” package ostensibly aimed at closing the achievement gap and improving teacher performance. It’s a predictably underwhelming package of ineffectual half-measures and recycled union proposals that don’t so much reform our K-12 as they do burden it. Unfortunately, the union omits critically-needed tenure reform altogether and their alternative licensure proposal is a watered down version of what works.
However, the fact that Education Minnesota felt compelled to release any reform proposal, however vague and uninspiring, shows just how much the education policy landscape has improved for true education reformers.  And, with Minnesota yet again earning low marks for its lackluster efforts to improve teachers, the time for reform is now.

Short Takes

The Wall Street Journal addresses Obamacare’s reality deficit: “Of all the claims deployed in favor of ObamaCare, and there are many, the most preposterous is that a new open-ended entitlement will somehow reduce the budget deficit. Insure 32 million more people, and save money too!”
From the Star Tribune: “Around the country, shrinking sales and property tax revenue combined with mounting pension obligations are forcing financially strapped state and local governments to shed jobs to make ends meet. Everywhere, that is, but in Minnesota.”

The City of Duluth’s proposal to close 9 of its 22 recreation centers has drawn some protests. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is that Duluth, a city with a declining population of less than 85,000, has 22 rec centers! To provide some additional context, Mayor Don Ness has also repeatedly insisted that the city has done everything it can to cut costs and restrain their budget.

Submission period closes for FFM Reagan Essay Contest

The submission deadline for FFM’s first annual Reagan Essay Contest has officially passed. We were thrilled to receive submissions from students at more than 100 different Minnesota high schools. We sincerely thank those that participated, as well as the many parents, teachers, administrators, and counselors who helped spread the word about the contest. We look forward to announcing the scholarship winners at our Spring Awards Banquet. 


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