Our View: No more LGA games, please
Again? Weren’t these every-single-year battles over the local government aid program supposed to end with the 2013 legislation that rebalanced, modernized and streamlined the LGA formula? Duluth and other LGA recipients finally were supposed to be able to budget with confidence and free of politics and the constant threats of the money being taken away.
Nonetheless, last year, House Republicans pushed to eliminate the state aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. The lawmakers made the tired argument that the cities raise enough through property taxes.
They didn’t acknowledge another possible motive for what they were trying to do: that Duluth, for one, is their political opposite, long represented by DFLers. Note Republican-led Rochester, bigger than Duluth by nearly 25,000 people, wasn’t among their big-city targets.
And they completely ignored that the three cities they were targeting all are regional hubs that provide parks, libraries and more for free to many thousands of Minnesotans who live outside their borders and thus don’t pay taxes for the amenities they use. That’s one of the points of LGA, to help regional hubs like Duluth cover the funding gap so they can continue to provide niceties for broader areas.
Still more than a month from the 2016 legislative session and already we’re hearing rumblings that Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth once again will be targeted for elimination from LGA. Last year’s “plan … remains alive this year,” Forum Communications Capitol Bureau Chief Don Davis reported this month.
So the annual fight and frustration continues — despite the 2013 legislation.
“The formula was redone to be more modern and streamlined, but it’s still up to the Legislature to make the full allocations,” Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth, chief author of the 2013 bill, explained to the News Tribune Opinion page this week. “As with all items in the state budget, there is no ‘autopilot.’ It must be revisited every two years.”
Backlash to last year’s proposal to cut LGA to the Twin Cities and Duluth was among the reasons the Legislature didn’t pass a tax bill, Reinert said. Expect that to also be addressed again this year.
“The Legislature can determine at any time to fund LGA at less than
100 percent — or to change the formula that determines the allocation,” Reinert said. “In our case, as a regional center, (LGA is) trying to address the issue of overburden. The services we provide (are) not only for Duluthians but for the region as well. (How to pay for) parks’ and libraries’ regional use has been one of my consistent issues.”
Minnesota’s local government aid program is important. It helps to assure the same high quality of life from border to border, whether a Minnesotan lives in a large city, a rural area or a small town. In addition to helping regional centers like Duluth, the program assures small cities with small budgets are able to provide police and fire protection, amenities like parks and other services.
Rather than cutting local government aid, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and others will push this year to increase funding for the program. They’ll lobby lawmakers to add
$45.5 million over two years, pointing out that state funds paid out through local government Aid are below where they were in 2002 because of state budget cuts.
“(LGA) is a vital foundation for many cities,” Le Sueur, Minn., Mayor Robert Broeder, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, told reporters this month.
Vital enough that it shouldn’t constantly be made a political pawn. But alas, sadly, that appears to be its fate once again in 2016 when protecting the program demands to be the priority.