Lobbyist says Crookston Republican is more supportive than her caucus
If Republicans in the Minnesota House, many of them representing cities in rural parts of the state, are leading the push to reduce Local Government Aid (LGA) funding – something Crookston hugely relies on each year – a lobbyist with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities told the Times Thursday he’s confident that Republican District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel of rural Crookston isn’t going to be joining in that push.
Bradley Peterson, an attorney with Flaherty-Hood in St. Paul, said he met with Crookston Mayor Gary Willhite, City Administrator Shannon Stassen and Kiel on Wednesday, and left the meeting encouraged by what Kiel, in her third term in the House, had to say about LGA.
“Our message is that we’re asking rural (Republican) House members to help change the direction of their caucus; we asked (Kiel) to lend her voice to that discussion and be part of the conversation about an LGA increase,” Peterson said. “She said she has, and that she will. She has some influence now, and we’re counting on that, too.”
A quick glance at the numbers show just how critical LGA is to the City of Crookston budget every year:
• Out of approximately 854 cities in Minnesota, per-capita LGA funding for Crookston in 2016 is $455, a number arrived at when the city’s population of 7,902 is divided by the city’s 2016 LGA allocation of $3,592,006. That’s, technically, $455 per person, and ranks #16 out of 854 cities.
• Again using the 854-city figure, when it comes to property tax wealth, Crookston – long considered a property tax-poor city, which raises only around $18,000 for each 1 percent property tax increase – ranks 634th out of 854 when it comes to tax base per capita.
“If you’re looking at tax base data, Crookston is one of the most LGA-reliant cities there is,” Peterson said.
The CGMC and other LGA proponents continue to push for LGA funding that’s equal to what it was in 2002, before state budget reductions led to the program being slashed. It’s been a slow climb ever since to approach that level of LGA funding.
Annual LGA debates were supposed to ease when a bipartisan, comprehensive group of stakeholders got together in a large room in 2013 and agreed to a stabilized LGA funding formula. And yet, Peterson said, with the legislature in 2015 failing to pass a comprehensive tax bill, the LGA debate rages.
The Minnesota Senate is on board with the CGMC’s push for a $45 million increase in LGA funding, while the House wants to cut funding by $84 million, Peterson explained, mostly by targeting LGA funding levels for Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. With the state currently sitting on a surplus in excess of $1 billion, he said talk of reducing LGA funding seems especially out of place and/or poorly timed.
Although it’s a comparison completely hypothetical in nature that’s meant mostly to raise eyebrows, Peterson said that if Crookston were to be subject to the same level of increase House Republicans are eyeing for Minneapolis, Crookston’s 2016 LGA allocation of $3.5 million would be cut by a whopping $2.7 million.
Talk of drastically reducing LGA funding to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth simply isn’t helpful to the program as a whole over the long-term, Peterson said.
“It should be a no-brainer for our members,” he explained. “If you’re going after these three cities and you succeed and this actually becomes law, the support for the LGA program in general would just drop out and it wouldn’t be long before it impacted the rest of the cities. That’s why we’re taking this discussion so seriously.”
The CGMC would prefer to be traveling the state discussing the importance of things like transportation funding, workforce housing, and broadband improvements, Peterson said, but, instead, the LGA battle continues. “After the agreement in 2013, it seems unnecessary that we’re still having this discussion,” he said. “With so many other issues demanding attention, to have to refight these battles that we thought were kind of settled is frustrating. But we can’t afford not to do it.”