Our view/Local Government Aid: More predictability, fewer politics: Yes!Look no further than Duluth to see all that has been maddening and wrong with the way the state doles out local government aid, or LGA, as it’s commonly known. Year after year, especially in recent years, City Hall and the City Council have drafted and approved budgets only to be left scrambling when millions in LGA suddenly were yanked away. And remember in 2010 when the Republican-controlled House proposed stripping Duluth and other DFL-dominated cities of all LGA while leaving unscathed Republican strongholds like Rochester?
Look no further than Duluth to see all that has been maddening and wrong with the way the state doles out local government aid, or LGA, as it’s commonly known. Year after year, especially in recent years, City Hall and the City Council have drafted and approved budgets only to be left scrambling when millions in LGA suddenly were yanked away. And remember in 2010 when the Republican-controlled House proposed stripping Duluth and other DFL-dominated cities of all LGA while leaving unscathed Republican strongholds like Rochester?
State Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans can sympathize.
“No one liked the current formula,” Frans said in a meeting this week with members of the News Tribune editorial board. “How do you run a budget when every year it’s, ‘Oh, that $2 million you had, well, you don’t have it now?’ … The state needs to restore its partnership with cities and counties.”
The state could go a long way toward doing just that by adopting a new way of determining who gets how much in local government aid and why. A new formula is on the table after 15 mayors from around the state got together to brainstorm a better way and after a bipartisan recommendation to Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature.
The greatest considerations under the new formula: what’s a community’s unmet need with regard to basic services like police and fire protection, snowplowing and infrastructure repairs, and what’s that community’s ability to meet that unmet need? What other considerations even matter?
LGA, borne from the Minnesota Miracle era of the late 1960s, was created to fill such gaps. The original idea was for all cities to send tax money to the Capital so the state could redistribute it where it was needed most. Wealthier places wouldn’t get as much back while poorer places would receive more money. Then, all Minnesotans, no matter where they lived, would enjoy a similar, “we’re-all-Minnesotans” quality of life.
Legislation containing the new LGA formula isn’t perfect. It includes an inflation adjuster that would commit future legislatures to increases in LGA funding when such increases really should be up to those future legislatures based on their own realities. And it includes an $80 million injection into LGA, a whopping
19 percent increase. While Duluth stands to get $1.6 million more in 2014 (and $29 million total), according to the Department of Revenue, the increase would be short-lived; checks would be hundreds of thousands of dollars smaller in coming years. Also, the source of the funding injection, from higher taxes on wealthier Minnesotans, is wrought with concerns and questions.
Imperfections aside, a new way of determining LGA distribution can be applauded from regional hubs like Duluth to Twin Cities suburbs and across the Gopher State. LGA is critical to many cities and counties — all the more so when determining who gets how much and why is predictable, dependable and as free of politics as possible.
“It shouldn’t matter whether you live in Edina or Cloquet or Duluth or Minneapolis. Every Minnesotan deserves quality local services and to be able to have a reasonable amount of property taxes,” Duluth Mayor Don Ness said at a news conference Tuesday in Duluth with Frans and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Frans and Rybak are traveling the state to promote the governor’s budget proposal. Duluth was the first of five expected stops.
“That’s what local government aid does,” Ness said. “It levels the playing field so that we can all afford to live in the community of our choice and still enjoy quality services.”