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Our View: Walz in Duluth's corner for LGA

Cheers went up last week, and applauding right along could have been — should have been — regional centers like Duluth that provide libraries, parks, and other amenities and services to thousands of non-residents who pour in every day for work or play.

The "strong applause," as the Associated Press reported, was for Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's vow to restore local government aid to pre-recession 2002 levels, a feat that will require a $30 million increase to around $565 million from the state for the nearly half-century-old program. It's an increase Duluth leaders and others justifiably have been seeking for years.

"There is not a community out there that you don't hear (from) about this," Walz said, speaking to a gathering of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, as the Star Tribune reported.

The coalition also long has advocated for the restoration of funding for the state's local government aid program. LGA was especially reduced under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty when Minnesota faced back-to-back budget shortfalls. The program has yet to be restored to its previous funding level.

"I think that I'll get Republican support on (its restoration) because this is a principle that they believe in solidly, too," Walz said. "The closer you get to the decision-making of the people, sometimes you get better results."

The state program is as vital as it is effective in helping regional centers like Duluth that provide so much to so many out-of-towners sans the visitors' property taxes to help pay for it. The program also is a lifeline to smaller, especially rural communities so they can provide basics that all Minnesotans should be able to expect no matter where they live, like public safety, fire protection, and street maintenance.

"LGA is the ultimate equity tool," was the way Alexandria, Minn., Mayor Sara Carlson described the program in an op-ed last year in the Grand Forks Herald. "It was created in the 1970s as a means to ensure that all Minnesota cities are able to provide a similar level of services, regardless of their wealth."

As much as the program makes sense to ensure the same high quality of life no matter where in the state a Minnesotan may live, and despite all the good it does, LGA, every legislative session, it seems, is targeted for cuts or elimination. Last year, Duluth was able to just maintain its present level of LGA, about $29 million annually — and that was heralded as a success.

Will local government aid be in the political crosshairs yet again this year with the DFL in control of the Minnesota House and Republicans in the majority in the Senate? If so, if that becomes the disappointing and frustrating reality, Duluth at least can cheer that it has in its corner the first governor not from the Twin Cities metro area since Iron Ranger Rudy Perpich in 1991.

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