By Deb Gau
MARSHALL — They may have been discussing some big issues – everything from the federal budget to environmental protections and green energy. But the message that Lyon County commissioners had for Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach on Friday was to remember how local governments and businesses are affected by national decisions.
Fischbach was in agreement with a lot of the points commissioners brought up, and said she wanted to help make sure rural Minnesotans had “a seat at the table” when lawmakers planned for the future.
Fischbach visited with the Lyon County board Friday morning, as she continued a listening tour through southwest Minnesota. The special board meeting drew an audience including officials from the county and the city of Marshall, as well as area media.
Most of the meeting was for county commissioners and community members to share their concerns with Fischbach, but she also gave a short update on issues she will be working on in Washington.
She is a member of the House Judiciary, Rules and Agriculture Committees and is a member of the Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit. So far this year, the committees have held meetings on topics like socially disadvantaged farmers and climate change, and broadband internet access.
“I know broadband has been a huge issue in the area,” she said. Fischbach said she wanted to help make sure funding for broadband efforts is being used well.
Fischbach said she is also learning more about what is being included in President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.
Commissioners told Fischbach that they were also concerned about massive spending by the federal government, like in the infrastructure proposal and the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. Local governments would eventually end up carrying the financial burden of those actions, Commissioner Charlie Sanow said.
“We need to start talking about realistic numbers in a realistic way,” he said.
Commissioner Steve Ritter said local and county governments needed to have a balanced budget every year. “Why doesn’t the federal government have a balanced budget?” he asked.
Fischbach said she had similar concerns, and that was why she had voted against the COVID bill.
“It was adding to the debt,” and the U.S. already had $1 trillion unspent from the first COVID relief bill, she said. Fischbach said she also thought relief should be targeted to businesses most impacted by the pandemic. “The kind of things that are in (the bill), are not things we should be spending money on,” she said.
Commissioner Paul Graupmann said he thought it was “almost criminal” to hide unrelated spending inside a bill. “It’s almost like stealing from our pockets.”
Fischbach said she thought naming bills, like the American Rescue Plan Act, gave the public a deceptive idea of what’s contained in the bill.
“It makes it sound really good, and then people don’t really know what’s in it,” she said. “When you actually find out what’s in these bills, it’s amazing.”
Commissioner Rick Anderson said he had concerns about government plans to fight climate change hurting farmers — for example, by taking land out of production. Farmers already do a lot of work to try and protect their environment, Anderson said. “They aren’t trying to destroy the land, by any means,” he said.
Fischbach said she wanted to “make sure we have a seat at the table” as climate change and green energy are discussed.
Sanow told Fischbach he didn’t have anything against green energy. “I just have qualms when people think that green energy is the only option,” he said. Sanow said efforts to build renewable energy in southwest Minnesota have been incomplete — there are plenty of wind turbines in the region, but not enough transmission lines to make use of the electricity being generated, he said.
Graupmann also said renewable fuels like ethanol needed to continue as an option for green energy.
Graupmann asked Fischbach if there would be any help coming for farmers who lost markets due to tariffs.
“I can’t say that I know there’s anything coming down the pike,” Fischbach said. However, she said Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments for farmers have started again.