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Upper Midwest state split on federal aid

ST. PAUL -- Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle appeared before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, asking that his state get its share of money from a federal economic recovery package.

Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Majority Leader Tony Sertich met privately with the state's congressional delegation in Washington and again in St. Paul with the same goal.

Wisconsin and Minnesota economies are hurting, so their leaders feel a need to pressure Congress to return their citizens more federal money than they receive now.

To the west, in North Dakota, the story is different. Policymakers there are concerned that the economy will affect them -- although they now are considering sending rebates to residents -- and want to get a fair shake from the economic package awaiting Senate action.

Another Upper Midwest state, South Dakota, is somewhere between the economic extremes, with one of its U.S. senators reporting feelings are mixed about an economic stimulus package.

But beyond the current debate, a new discussion is brewing about federal money being sent back to states.

Traditionally, North Dakota receives one of the country's best returns on their federal tax dollars. South Dakota is not far behind.

The ongoing discussion will feature leaders from states like Minnesota and Wisconsin lobbying for a better return on their federal taxes.

"Everyone that I spoke to is well aware that that needs to be a goal," Kelliher said after her recent Washington trip. "We continue to reinforce the message."

Ratings compiled by the national Tax Foundation show a wide range of return for tax money in the Upper Midwest.

North Dakota gets $1.68 back for every $1 it sends to Washington, the foundation reports. That is the sixth-best return.

South Dakota is not far behind, with a $1.53 return. Wisconsin comes in 39th, getting 86 cents back. Minnesota ranks No. 46, receiving a 72-cent return.

New Mexico and Mississippi are the top two states, each getting more than twice as much money back as they send to the feds. New Hampshire, Connecticut, Nevada and New Jersey follow Minnesota, but not by much.

To a certain extent, that breakdown of federal aid follows through in the currently debated economic stimulus package.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Ron Kind of western Wisconsin and Tim Walz of southern Minnesota said existing funding formulas are being used to split up the $800 billion-plus in the economic package.

"This has not been a situation where individual states or members of Congress have come forward" to lobby for more, Kelliher said. "It has been discouraged for (anyone) getting a larger piece of the pie."

Added U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.: "We are in the middle of an economic crisis and everyone is working together here."

However, Klobuchar added, formulas likely will be debated when the Senate takes up its economic package in coming days. "I think we will fight that out on the floor."

Whatever happens, Americans will not be united, she said. "We are going to make some tough decisions that people won't like."

Politicians on both sides of the issue are quick to point out that several reasons give states like North Dakota more money -- military bases, large numbers of elderly citizens, lots of road miles compared to population, a large number of poor residents who need government assistance and senior members of Congress with have more pull than those with less seniority.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.