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Letter: Time to make lemonade

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I understand how elected local government leaders may feel the sky is falling. State government's solution to past budget problems has been a cram-down solution, unilaterally cutting local government revenue while actually increasing their own revenue (counties, minus 8.4 percent; cities, minus 8.1 percent; schools, minus 10.7 percent; and state, plus 6.8 percent; Property Tax Study Project, Van Wychen, December 2009).

We now face both a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit and topsy-turvy potential gridlock as parties have reversed their roles with a Democrat holding the governorship and the Republicans controlling both houses. Yet, I firmly believe I'm not being a Pollyanna when I say that a little lemonade can be made out of a lemon of a budget problem if state elected leaders from both parties were sincere when they laid out their budget positions.

DFL Governor Dayton, opposed to solving state budget problems on the back of the average guy, should boldly propose state match plus proportional spending reductions to that of local government. Even oft-viewed fiscally irresponsible California has started down this road. This would avoid the cram-down solution on property taxpayers.

Republican legislators, opposed to wasteful spending, can eliminate or phase out unfunded mandates and boldly look at ending maintenance of effort. MOEs, an arcane way of governance in which local governments are required to spend money on programs based not on results but rather by an arbitrary past level of spending, are estimated to cost county taxpayers over $227 million in 2011 (Minnesota Inter-County Association: Legislative Priorities for 2011).

I urge fellow local government leaders across the state to continue their engagement in the discussions with state leaders for the need of reform. Working together, state and local government can still produce some lemonade out of one lemon of a tough budget problem.

Christopher Dahlberg

St. Louis County Commissioner

Duluth

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