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Gov. Walz to cities: Progress made, more needed

Walz visited a League of Minnesota Cities conference in Duluth Friday morning and applauded Local Government Aid increases while chiding Legislature for dropping bonding proposal

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. State of Minnesota photo.

Before a crowd of lanyard-adorned officials gathered in Duluth Friday morning for the League of Minnesota Cities conference, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz largely celebrated the recent legislative session that he says did a lot of good for local governments.

"I don't think we should go around getting pats on the back for doing what we're supposed to do," he said, prompting applause in the crowded Lake Superior Ballroom at the DECC. "I will say if we measure ourselves against other states and the federal government, it is something we're celebrating."

Local Government Aid is set to increase by $26 million, bringing it back to 2002 levels. The state payments that many cities depend on to balance their budgets and pay for essential services were cut in 2003 to balance the state budget.

Local Government Aid is expected to cover a third of Duluth's general fund for 2019, according to a recently filed financial report, and the city received $29.6 million in LGA for the general fund last year.

"Since 2009, general fund expenditures have grown on average two percent each year, while LGA has remained relatively stagnant," said Jen Carlson, budget manager for the city of Duluth. "With one-third of our general fund revenues remaining stagnant each year and the expenditures it pays for growing an average of two percent each year, the annual financial imbalance creates a budget challenge. Ideally LGA would have a growth factor built into the formula; however, we are grateful to be moving forward with the increase in LGA."

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Walz on Friday pointed out several initiatives that were missed, including a gas tax increase to pay for much-needed infrastructure projects and a bonding bill that would have done the same. He said he expects between $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion in bonding will be needed in the next session.

"Regional projects make up the core of that," he said.

Asked what can be done to ensure the hundreds of small municipalities that do not receive Local Government Aid have the means to provide for their citizens, Walz said he's open to looking at formula changes, again stressed the need for a gas tax increase and said he will be "aggressive" in seeking a bonding package next year.

On Duluth

Referring to a recent New York Times article highlighting Duluth as one of the best places to weather a changing climate over the next several decades, Walz said that presents an exciting opportunity, but: "I don't want it to be the best city after the zombie apocalypse," he joked, "I want it to be the best city now."

The governor also took a serious tone with the ongoing threat of climate change and the cost of inaction.

"If you walk into the middle of a street, and you are convinced the bus schedule says there is not supposed to be a bus coming, but if you walk into the street and the bus is coming, believe that the bus will kill you."

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Brooks Johnson was an enterprise/investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune from 2016 to 2019.
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