ST. PAUL, MN—Although many of its highways and bridges are in severe disrepair, the traditionally undemanding state of Minnesota isn't comfortable asking for more interstate funding, sources reported Monday.
"Oh, we wouldn't want to bother the U.S. government—they've got more than enough on their plate as it is," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. "Most of the potholes on I-90 are less than four feet wide. We get by just fine. I wouldn't want anyone all the way over there in Washington to be worrying about little ol' us."
According to U.S. Department of Transportation records, Minnesota has not requested an increase in highway funds for 10 years, in spite of the fact that the majority of their roads are plagued by rutted or uneven surfaces, cracked pavement, potholes, and other deterioration.
"If it were a life or death situation, you can bet your bippy we'd ask for it, but since it isn't..." Pawlenty said. "Well, we can make do with the transportation-department budget they decided to give us back in 1995. That was more than generous."
But U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Minnesota's highway system is "dangerously underfunded."
"Nearly 20 percent of Minnesota's highway lights are not working, and Highway 280 seems to be held together with equal parts concrete and prayer," Mineta said. "We tried to slip them a few dollars along with the National Bridge Inspection Standards Act, but they told us to put the money right back into our wallets, or give it to someone who could really use it, like Arizona."
Mineta said that, even after he explained that he couldn't simply give the money to another state, Minnesota reaffirmed that it was determined to stretch what federal dollars it had.
"They kept saying, 'Oh, you guys keep that budget allocation,'" Mineta said. "But everyone likes Minnesota and would love to help them out. They never ask for anything, unlike New York, which seems to be in some kind of crisis every other week."
Joshua Bolten, U.S. Director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the national government "guilted" Minnesota into accepting some money to fund a child-safety-seat program three years ago, by repeatedly urging them to "think of the children."
"After all it took to get them to take the money, they wouldn't stop thanking us," Bolten said. "The following day, Minnesota congressmen kept dropping by with cakes and cookies. I mean, the hand-stitched quilt Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-MN) made was beautiful, but a gift was really, really unnecessary."
Most Minnesota residents support their governor's decision to do without increased federal funding. In fact, citizens have been holding rummage sales and donating their time so that they won't have to inconvenience the rest of the country.
"We don't want to be a bother," said Brian Calhoun, a restaurant owner who spent last weekend fixing highway safety rails in his hometown of St. Cloud. "There are a lot of folks around here who know the value of a little bit of elbow grease. Duluth said it has some scrap metal we might be able to melt down to make some lamp poles."
Although the majority of Minnesota residents agree that they can "make do," a few have disagreed.
"This is stupid," said Tom Suttcliffe, a recent transplant to Minneapolis. "We need more snow plows—everybody knows it. I'm sorry, but I don't think having people agree to shovel the street in front of their houses is the answer. Shit, if everyone else is too embarrassed to ask for the money, I'll do it. Who do I call?"
Later that day, Minnesota officials gave Suttcliffe a "stern talking to," and the Boston native said he would not speak out of turn again.
In spite of the state's congenial nature, federal officials say they are "exasperated" by Minnesota's selflessness.
"Minnesota should just take the spending money, already," Department of Education Undersecretary Edward McPherson said. "It's not like it's a special handout—all schools were allocated extra money under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But they refuse to accept their extra federal funding on the grounds that their schools 'don't need to be fancy.'"
"Frankly, they're just being stubborn and I'm not going to stand for it any longer," McPherson said. "They're gonna get some more funding by the end of the year if the federal government has to airdrop in school lunches and forcibly place new teachers in the classrooms with the help of the National Guard."