Our view: No miracle in restoring LGA
A piece of the Minnesota Miracle of 1971 said that if we shared our tax dollars we could help to assure that all Minnesotans enjoy the same high quality of life, whether they lived in a wealthy Twin Cities suburb or in an impoverished small town. Through the state’s Local Government Aid program, all Minnesotans were to receive the same level of police and fire protection, snowplowing and other public services.
Being “Minnesotan” would mean something — something good, no matter where in the state you called home.
But with tens of millions of dollars doled out every year by the program, and with greed and politics what they are, the program found itself repeatedly raided and politically pilfered. Cities that didn’t really need help sometimes received it anyway while locales with great needs found themselves enduring funding cuts, sometimes simply because they didn’t vote for the party in power. Whether such motivation could be proved or not never really seemed to matter.
In 2013, the DFL-controlled Minnesota Legislature made some long-needed and welcome changes to the Local Government Aid program. Its funding formula was reformed, and its coffers were bolstered. Not only could Minnesota cities and local governments make infrastructure investments again in the wake of the Great Recession, fill job openings and complete long-overdue equipment purchases, local leaders were able to better plan, too, knowing they could rely on the Local Government Aid promised. Every legislative session wouldn’t have to be watched with a nervous eye while the program and its cash were treated as political pawns.
This session, additional reforms to Local Government Aid can be enacted by the now politically divided Legislature. A measure to restore the program to its 2002 funding level already is receiving the bipartisan support it deserves and needs for passage. DFL Sen. Lyle Koenen of Clara City and Republican Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck are authors of a measure to add $45.5 million to Local Government Aid over the next two years. The group of co-authors also is encouragingly bipartisan.
“LGA is the lifeblood of greater Minnesota communities,” Ely City Councilor Heidi Omerza, the president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said in a statement released Tuesday by the coalition. “It allows cities to provide infrastructure and critical services like police and fire protection, snow removal and libraries while helping to keep property taxes low. When the LGA program is underfunded, cities and residents across the state suffer.”
Duluth and the rest of the estimated 90 percent of Minnesota cities that depend on the program know that as well as anyone. Their bottom line is affected because the program has 9 percent less funding now than it did in 2002.
But that can be remedied with Minnesota now in firmer financial footing. Our state’s $1 billion budget surplus is the second in nine months. Local Government Aid can be made a priority again.