Cautious optimism from local officials to Dayton's budget proposal
Mayor Tom Stiehm hadn’t heard Dayton’s budget plan Tuesday afternoon when asked how he liked the proposal.
No further cuts to LGA, he was told.
"Well, then, I like it," he said. "LGA has taken bigger hits than its portion of the budget."
Reaction from city, county and school district leaders seemed to be a thumbs up, especially after many years of cuts and uncertainty on what sort of state funding might eventually come from St. Paul.
Stiehm remembered Dayton’s campaign promise during a stop in Austin.
"He told us he wanted to freeze them," he said. "Eliminating LGA doesn’t make taxes go away; it just pushes them off to the city and county instead of the state."
Like many other officials, Stiehm isn’t holding his breath.
"Obviously, it’s early," he said, "but I hope this is the start of something new."
Tom Dankert – whose job as finance director is to make those numbers balance – agreed.
"At least we’ve got support from Gov. Dayton, which we appreciate," he said Tuesday. "On the surface, that’s his proposal, but everybody gets to weigh in. For now, we can breathe easier, but the council still has the responsibility to review programs and services, regardless of state aid or not."
Dankert anticipates the proposed tax increases on the wealthiest state residents to be "the main discussion" between the two sides of the aisle.
Cuts to LGA are particularly painful for outstate cities with less taxable value, said City Administrator Jim Hurm – cities like Austin.
"What I say to the City Council is, ‘I don’t know how we’ve done it,’ " he said. "I’ve been panicky inside; where are the cuts going to come from?
"We simply can’t provide…services without help," he continued. "We need LGA. I’m pleased that our legislature recognizes that, as does the governor."
Admittedly, Hurm said, it could be a long, long time before anything is resolved.
"It’s a whole process to go through here," he said of the politics involved.
Mower County Board Chairman Tim Gabrielson had to be relieved Tuesday night when he realized the cuts to county programs would stop under Dayton’s proposal.
Earlier in the day, he wasn’t hopeful.
"I’d be surprised if it included (a freeze on) county program aid, too," he said. "If it does, great. If we get any thinner in any of these (county) departments, we’re going to be see-through."
And Austin Superintendent David Krenz call Dayton's budget proposal "very positive in light of the deficit the state has."
"The all day kindergarten would benefit us as we already incur the cost for an all-day program and the fact that he is saying no reduction in the formula helps us plan for next year," Krenz said.
But he too was cautious.
"As always nothing is set in stone until the legislators have their chance to create their budget and then see what comes out of the negotiations," Krenz said. "So having said all of that we will still need to wait until May, most likely, to really know what the education budget will look like."