Minnesota Opinion: Legislature must make LGA a top priority in ‘16
By Alexandria Echo Press
Forum News Service
Voters are sure to hear a lot about Local Government Aid during Minnesota’s next legislative session, which convenes March 8.
The Legislature, with a budget surplus of about $2 billion, will be pushed and pulled by many groups fighting for a bigger piece of the pie.
In our view, LGA is a need, not a want. It’s extremely important for Greater Minnesota cities that use LGA for streets, bridges, parks, police, fire protection and other essential services. Providing LGA also keeps property taxes down — for individuals as well as for local businesses. Without LGA, businesses in Alexandria with a value of $229,500 (the median amount) would pay $1,964 in taxes — 26 percent more than they are now, according to a study from the Coalition of Minnesota Cities.
Alexandria’s share of LGA has been cut or flat-lined 10 times in the last 14 years. Back in 2002, the city received $1.66 million in LGA. In 2016, it will get $1.47 million, an 11 percent drop.
Unfortunately, the clear argument showing the need to increase LGA will likely be muddied by myths and political maneuverings. During the last session, for instance, the Senate approved a
$45.5 million statewide LGA increase, but the House voted to cut LGA by
$84 million by targeting the LGA that goes to “first class” cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. On the surface, cutting LGA for those larger cities may seem reasonable for those of us in greater Minnesota, but, in fact, it would have a boomerang affect that would ultimately hurt small cities that rely on LGA. Here’s why: If those big cities no longer receive LGA, their legislators wouldn’t be that interested in maintaining or increasing LGA in the future. It would erode the credibility of the program.
Two mayors, Thomas Kuntz from Owatonna (population 25,599) and Randy Wilson from Glencoe (population 5,631), recently wrote a commentary stating why even they were opposed to the idea of cutting LGA for the Twin Cities and Duluth. “If successful, the House’s attack on LGA severely undermines a program that is vital to many Greater Minnesota cities,” they noted. “If the House GOP succeeds in cutting LGA from the first-class cities, what’s to stop our cities from being on the chopping block next?”
As it turned out, the Legislature did nothing with LGA last session. The competing tax bills remained in a conference committee to work out the differences.
Let’s hope they get it right this time around. The House should follow the lead of the Senate, which is proposing to increase LGA funding by $45.5 million to get back to 2002 levels.
Minnesota’s cities — large and small — need it. And so do taxpayers and businesses.