Our View: Local government aid particularly important this COVID year

From the editorial: "(LGA) led the city’s lobbying priorities this year, set off by itself, with other matters presented as a secondary list in the document considered Monday by the City Council."


Even in a normal year, protecting local government aid, or LGA, is a high priority for Duluth’s lobbying efforts at the state Capitol in St. Paul.

For half a century, the state program has been a godsend to regional hubs like Duluth and to poorer, often rural, areas in the state, ensuring that no matter where Minnesotans live, they can expect a similar high quality of life and public services. The program returns tax dollars to local communities that need it. In Duluth, LGA helps offset the costs of maintaining streets, parks, libraries, and more with the reality that 35,000 commuters per day and 6.7 million tourists per year pour in, use and enjoy those community features, but don’t pay a penny in property taxes for them.

This year, with COVID-19 pushing budgets toward breaking points, protecting LGA is particularly important. “Any potential cuts” would be “devastating,” as Little Falls Mayor Greg Zylka, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said in an op-ed last week that was distributed statewide, including to the News Tribune Opinion page.

The good news: after a decade and a half or so of LGA being targeted repeatedly and under the constant threat of slashing and pilfering due to budget shortfalls at the state level and sometimes just pure political spite amongst lawmakers, the Legislature restored the program to its 2002 funding levels in 2019. And this year, Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget maintains LGA.

“We’re really grateful for that and hopeful that the Legislature follows suit,” Mayor Emily Larson said in a phone interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. “We understand LGA is not currently under threat, but we also know that things move around quickly and everybody is experiencing COVID and the financial impacts of it. So it’s important for us to keep.”


So important that it led the city’s lobbying priorities this year, set off by itself, with other matters presented as a secondary list in the document considered Monday by the City Council.

Local government aid accounts for about 32% of the city’s general fund budget, the money that pays for core services like police, fire, libraries, and planning. Protecting it is critical even without a specific threat to it.

“We don’t falsely sound the alarm. It is really important to keep it at the forefront and to remind people,” Mayor Larson said.

Rep. Liz Olson, a member of Duluth’s legislative delegation to St. Paul, is quite aware of the urgency.

“The COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impacts have been disastrous for our local governments, and we need to ensure our cities have the tools they need to ensure residents have an excellent quality of life,” Olson, whose district is in western Duluth, said in a written statement to the Opinion page in response to a request for comment. “As we assemble a new two-year budget at the Capitol, I’ll be working to ensure we look out for one another, no matter where we live. LGA is a tool that helps us do that effectively.”

In his op-ed, Mayor Zylka urged lawmakers to consider Minnesota’s post-pandemic future as they work on that two-year state budget this session. “We all want strong, vibrant communities with thriving businesses and happy residents,” he wrote.

For much of Minnesota, including Duluth, protecting and maintaining local government aid goes a long way toward protecting and ensuring just such a future.


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