Our View: State needs to unite behind LGA push
While much of last year's legislative session was framed as a battle between metro and rural Minnesota, the 2016 session could bring some bridge building if leaders from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities have their way.
"Let's remember the whole state. We are one state," said Le Sueur Mayor Robert Broeder, president of the coalition.
The mayor, along with coalition lobbyists, made a preliminary pitch for the group's top legislative priority: an increase in Local Government Aid, which is intended to provide property tax reliefe as general purpose aid to cities. The request is for $45.5 million, matching a bill the Senate approved last year.
However, not all in Greater Minnesota support the effort, which has Rep. Steve Drazkowski wearing a target in the coalition's effort to increase local funding. The Mazeppa Republican has drawn the coalition's attention through a series of letters and other commentaries supporting a House plan to cut LGA for three Minnesota cities — Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.
The measure originally presented by Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, would cut the aid to three of the state's four Cities of the First Class, while keeping aid to other cities governed by the existing formula.
Drazkowski, who says the coalition has convinced smaller cities to support a metro agenda, said the cuts are needed because an unreasonable amount of LGA is going to the three cities. "This simply brings them in line with the per capita average in other cities," he said.
While it would be easy for some to agree to the us-versus-them stance, Broeder notes it's being taken on what could be unstable ground. He notes cutting the funds for the three cities does nothing for Greater Minnesota and could jeopardize future funding. "With the political support there is in Minneapolis and St. Paul, I think it's pretty easy to say it would be the beginning of the end to this program that is so vital to so many of our cities," the Le Sueur mayor said.
While that might be a bit exaggerated, it does raise the possibility of repercussions. What would be next? A complete change in how LGA is determined? A revamp of the formula created in 2013, which bases funding on need rather than population, could benefit cities such as Rochester, which is low on the per-capita scale, but it also could jeopardize funds for smaller communities, such as Drazkowski's hometown of Mazeppa, which was certified to receive $229 per capita in 2014, $36 per capita more than Minneapolis, according to the Minnesota House website .
While the worst-case scenario is unlikely, there doesn't appear to be any winners in LGA as it's playing out with nearly two months left until the legislative session starts. Pitting rural interest against metro interests may have played well leading up to the 2014 election that saw a shift in the House, but it doesn't appear to be as successful providing for the needs of the state as a whole.
We'd urge both sides on the issue to put aside geographical or political concerns and look at what LGA legislation does for the state as a whole. We need to find ways to come together, rather than create divisions. We all live here. Those of us in rural areas need cities to provide a variety of needs, and those of us in cities would be unable to survive without work done in rural Minnesota.
Life in our state is a cooperative venture. We need to make sure it works for everyone involved.