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Cities across Minnesota are gearing up for a fight for funding

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ST. PAUL -- A perennial Minnesota legislative debate about local government aid is expected in the 2010 session, or maybe earlier.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is making noise about a big fight, and many city officials are concerned that they cannot wait until lawmakers return to the Capitol on Feb. 4. A Wednesday budget forecast, which could show a new deficit of $1 billion, may lead to cuts in local governments' December state paychecks.

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"Repeated cuts to LGA have pushed our communities to the edge, and our ability to provide public safety, libraries, parks and other essential services at an affordable price to property taxpayers is suffering," coalition President timothy Strand, the St. Peter mayor, said. "On behalf of our residents, we are telling legislators and the governor that enough is enough."

Local governments are scheduled to receive $412 million in December aid checks, one of two installments each year. A year ago, Gov. Tim Pawlenty chopped those checks to help fill a deficit the state then faced. While he seems reluctant to do the same thing this December, it all depends on what Wednesday's budget report says.

Some predict the report will show revenues falling up to $1 billion short of expectations. Early indications are that the news will not be good, given the fact that in the first four months of the current two-year budget, which started July 1, the state was $233 million short.

Regardless of the financial picture, the city coalition said Pawlenty's unilateral cuts, known as unallotment, and other actions hurt them.

Check stimulus

A new Web site, www.StimulusWatch.org, makes it easier for taxpayers to see how federal stimulus money is being spent locally. While much information remains sketchy, the Web site does give figures and basic descriptions of projects the federal money funded.

Among the site's features is the ability for people to add information about local projects.

Kelliher gets nod

Minnesota's two major American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees unions split their support in the 2010 governor's race.

While Council 5, based in the Twin Cities, backs former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, Nashwauk-based Council 65 supports another Democrat, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Both candidates live in Minneapolis.

The decision to back Kelliher was close, Council 65 Executive Director Steve Preble said.

"But, when we finally had to decide, it was clear that not only would Anderson Kelliher make a terrific governor but her ability to build coalitions made her both the most electable and meant she could deliver on the issues that matter most to working people," Preble said.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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