By Nancy Carroll
and Alan Oberloh
Reverberations from the November election are still echoing through the Capitol halls, with a Democrat taking over the governor's office and Republicans taking over the House and Senate, a change that will have big implications for greater Minnesota cities.
The number one issue for our communities is the future of the Local Government Aid program, which is critical to the economic health of cities, particularly those located in greater Minnesota. LGA keeps property taxes down and helps fund services like police, fire, libraries and snowplowing.
Surprisingly, LGA is also one issue on which we can gain bi-partisan support. Despite talk of cuts to--or even the elimination of--LGA funding, we think that these conversations are far off base.
One of the reasons for our optimism is Governor-elect Mark Dayton and his renewed emphasis on a strong local government partnership. The other lies in our newly elected Republican legislators.
The Local Government Aid program amounts to less than 3 percent of the state budget, but it plays an enormous role in balancing the economic forces in the state. Without it, property taxes would rise immensely in most cities in greater Minnesota but remain untouched in property rich cities. Rural cities and local businesses would be hammered if their services were drastically reduced while property taxes rose four or five times higher than those in suburban cities, and neither the governor-elect nor rural legislators should want this to happen.
Throughout his campaign, Gov.-elect Dayton expressed his commitment to the Local Government Aid program, and the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities was pleased to see him take leadership in this area. He assured city leaders that he would not cut the program and that we could "take [his word] to the bank." Those were strong words from a principled statewide leader who knows that strong, vital cities throughout the state--not just in a portion of it--are the key to a healthy state.
Members of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities have also been meeting with many of our newly elected Republican legislators. They are new to the system, but most recognize the importance of LGA to their constituents and understand that the program is vital to the survival of rural Minnesota and its cities. We will continue to meet and ask our new legislators for support over the coming months and anticipate their help on issues critical to the wellbeing of our cities, including the retention and funding of LGA.
As active members of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, an organization of 77 cities located in great Minnesota, we have strong expectations for the coming year. We expect the governor to keep his word by maintaining LGA funding at its current level and we expect greater Minnesota's legislators--new and old, Republican and Democrat--to stand up for their constituents by supporting continued funding of the program. This may be a difficult budget year, but greater Minnesota's future is at stake, and we expect bi-partisan support in upholding LGA, which keeps property taxes affordable and communities strong.
Nancy Carroll is Mayor of Park Rapids and President of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Alan Oberloh is Mayor of Worthington and Vice-President of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.