Program is critical component of City of Crookston budget every year

    In a conference call with statewide media Tuesday, leaders for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) emphasized that an increase in Local Government Aid (LGA) is their top legislative priority and expressed mounting frustration with the Minnesota House Republicans’ plan that the CGMC says would severely jeopardize the future of the program.

     “The House Republicans’ current stance on LGA is extremely harmful to rural cities,” said Le Sueur Mayor and CGMC President Robert Broeder. “They need to know that city leaders in Greater Minnesota aren’t going to just stand by and watch them take the first steps toward dismantling this vital program.”

    LGA is hugely important to Crookston, considered one of the more revenue-challenged cities in Minnesota, given the amount of property tax revenue it generates each year. Among cities like it in the region, Crookston by a significant margin receives the most LGA annually, at approximately $3.5 million currently.

     The House’s LGA proposal passed last session, and currently sitting in conference committee since the Legislature was unable to reach an agreement on a tax bill in 2015, cuts $84 million from the LGA program by reducing the amount of aid distributed to the “first class cities” of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, a CGMC member. The House plan would also freeze the LGA appropriation for all other cities. In contrast, the Senate passed a bill that would increase total funding for the LGA program by $45.5 million, the amount advocated for by the CGMC.

     “With such a huge state surplus right now, you’d hope that legislators would be looking for ways to give cities a boost,” said Audrey Nelsen, a member of the Willmar City Council and CGMC Board of Directors. “Instead, the House is moving ahead with a plan that does nothing to provide additional help for cities like Willmar, and in fact harms the main state program that we rely on to help restrain property taxes and pay for important services like police protection, street maintenance and parks.”

     During the conference call, the CGMC challenged House Property Tax Chair Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) for perpetuating misleading information about the House’s LGA plan in the media.

     “Rep. Drazkowski has insinuated that the House’s plan is good for Greater Minnesota because it takes money from the large cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth,” said CGMC Senior Lobbyist Bradley Peterson. “That is simply not true — rural cities are not helped by cutting LGA from the first class cities.”

     Moreover, Peterson added that these proposed LGA cuts are dangerous because they chip away at the integrity of the program.

     “There is certainly a practical aspect to this in that once you start arbitrarily cutting LGA from certain cities, particularly ones that have extremely powerful voting blocs, support for the program will begin to erode,” Peterson said. “LGA is far too important to the health of our entire state to pit cities against each when it comes to determining who receives it.”

    “LGA is the foundation for many cities’ budgets. This year, our lawmakers have a prime opportunity to truly strengthen communities across Minnesota by increasing LGA funding,” Broeder said. “The House plan would send us backward, but I remain hopeful that our rural legislators will speak out against this harmful proposal and instead support the cities they represent.”

     The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 85 cities outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Coalition educates legislators about issues important to Greater Minnesota. Visit the CGMC online at greatermncities.org.