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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Will Legislators Still Fund Madison's Place $189,000 despite it's on track to be fully funded in two months?

6-2016 update: The park opened and they did it without tax dollars. HF2183 did not pass. 
Back in May 2015 I reported how Local Government Jeopardizes Local Private Fundraising Effort with a bill to over fund the future Madison Place Playground that has started to be built at the Bielenberg Sports Center in Woodbury.

As of December 2015, the park is 97% fully funded by private donors.

Local State Representative Kelly Fenton authored House File 2183 to fund the project $189,000, the amount the project needed when the bill was authored. I asked the local legislators named on the bill why they would fund a project that had already raised over 75% to their $830,000 goal (at the time)... Senator Karin Housley (R) responded and took her name off the senate version of the bill SF2032 and thanked me for informing her.

I also explained to legislators that since Fenton authored the bill the Madison Claire Foundation had posted on their Facebook timeline on March 31st they were only $130,000 short of the goal... A $59,000 gain! Still Representative Joann Ward (D), Representative Kathy Lohmer (R), and Senator Susan Kent (D) refused to pull back from spending tax dollars on the park.

Don't get me wrong, the park is a great idea and very worthy of private donations as the park will serve all children, including those with disabilities. The people who manage the fund raising are close to the cause and have never advertised that they wanted the park funded with tax dollars by sharing the funding bill is active in the legislature.

What this article is about is an update: As predicted the fund raising is on track to raise the money 100% on their own within two months! According to their website, madisonclairefoundation.org, they are just $25,000 short closing out 2015, meaning they have raised over $150,000 since Representative Fenton wrote the bill!

I emailed Representative Fenton and her administrative aid with this impressive update. I asked if she would congratulate the fund raisers and kill the $189,000 bill she authored to fund the park. Fenton has not responded, nor have the other co-signers of the bill that is dormant as "recessed" in the legislature until they reconvene in 2016 according to https://legiscan.com/MN/drafts/HF2183/2015 

This is significant because in the blur of the legislature where bills are grouped together in omnibus packages and most given very little discussion on the floor when they're voted on... it could easily get passed by the uninformed representatives. Yes, one could argue that a true republican would understand the slippery slope of funding private charity with tax dollars and could possibly vote no... but on the election year that is 2016 many politicians like Fenton have no problem putting principles and campaign promises aside to pass a feel good bill with the language of the bill having you believe the funds will go towards the park.

This leads us to the second point. I confirmed with House and Senate finance committee staff that bills such as this are completely legal even if they are requesting money for a project like this that could be fully funded privately. The funds can be used by the group that receives the funds for whatever else. YES, it is legal in Minnesota to lie to the public and the rest of the legislature to write an unethical bill requesting money to fund something not described in the language of the bill, just as long as the organization named gets the tax dollars. 

As of December 2015 the Madison place playground raised over $100,000 in seven months, with just $25,000 left to go. Yet the Bill still exists to fund it. That's a staggering $14,000 a month average and at this rate the park could easily be fully funded before the legislature reopens!

Representative Fenton is up for reelection in 2016 and could likely face defeat by an actual fiscal conservative republican in the summer primary for the spot on the November ballot. Decisions like this and her choice to abandon her constiuents by authoring the bill to fund the controversial Gateway/ Gold Line Corridor makes this a likely possibility:




Susan Kent (651) 296-4166 (D)
John Hoffman (651) 296-4154 (D)
Ann Rest (651) 296-2889 (D)