The CGMC Board of Directors met with gubernatorial candidates Keith Downey, Rebecca Otto and Paul Thissen on Wednesday, the second in a series of meetings with candidates running for governor. As we mentioned in last week’s CGMC in Brief, three candidates met with the board before the CGMC Fall Conference in November (read about those meetings here) and others are slated to meet with the board in January. Additional meeting dates may be added in the future if need be.
Keith Downey, the former chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and a former state representative who currently lives in Minnetonka, said his campaign theme is “Make Minnesota Work for Everyone.” His main priorities are reinvigorating the business climate by reducing taxes and regulations, fixing the achievement gap in the urban core and health care. As governor, Downey said he would reduce state spending by 15 percent and eliminate the commercial/industrial property tax, corporate tax and estate tax. Stating that “LGA is not something I would have dreamed up,” Downey said LGA funding should be only for “core services,” not “quality of life” items like community centers, swimming pools or libraries, and he believes the first-class cities are not as dependent on LGA as other communities. He discussed a proposal from when he was a legislator which would take 50 percent of LGA and convert it to a grant and loan program for cities. Some of the grants would be awarded based on specific projects and some would be based on innovative collaborations between local governments.
State Auditor Rebecca Otto, a DFLer from Marine on St. Croix who has served in her current position for three terms, says “Renew Minnesota” is her campaign theme. Her top priorities are health care, attracting jobs and manufacturers through the “clean energy economy,” and providing two years of paid tuition to any Minnesota high school graduate (provided they maintain certain stipulations). She emphasized her goal to move the state to a single-payer system, claiming it would attract businesses and reduce health care costs, particularly for local governments. She said she supports LGA and that small communities in particular need it due to the economies of scale. On the issue of environmental regulations, Otto stressed the importance of good science and the need to work with local governments and other stakeholders. She also expressed concern that the state needs to do more to address aging infrastructure, particularly in smaller cities that don’t have the population necessary to spread out costs.
State Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) has served in the House since 2002, including a stint as Speaker of House in 2013-14. He emphasized his commitment to “getting stuff done” and said he wants all Minnesotans to prosper and feel a sense of belonging, no matter where they live. He cited a number of priorities, including economic security, education, health care, infrastructure, child care and housing. He expressed concern about the state budget deficit, noting his accomplishments in balancing the budget as Speaker. He further stated his biggest regret from his time as Speaker is not passing a comprehensive transportation bill including a gas tax increase. Thissen said he is a strong supporter of LGA, calling it a “critical component of what keeps Minnesota great.” On environmental regulations, he said it is important that city leaders have a “seat at the table” and that he wants to fashion the regulatory process so that resources are used wisely to reach clean water goals.
You can learn more about the candidates and their priorities at their campaign websites:
At a Republican gubernatorial candidate forum held in Marshall on Monday, the four participating GOP candidates were asked whether, if elected Governor, they would propose cuts to the Local Government Aid (LGA) program. To the CGMC’s dismay, each of the candidates on the panel either said they would cut funding for LGA or perpetuated misconceptions about the program. You can see the video of the LGA question here. (We also encourage you to watch the full 90-minute forum.)
In response to the question on LGA, Hennepin County Commissioner and 2014 GOP candidate for governor Jeff Johnson indicated that he would change the formula, and would likely also support cuts. Keith Downey, who formerly served in the Legislature and as chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, pointed to an LGA reform he had proposed as a legislator, which would cut the program’s overall budget and allocate portions of the funding as grants. Current State Senator Dave Osmek said the formula is “screwed up” and “corrupt” in favor of Minnesota’s largest cities. Candidate Phil Parrish, a resident of Kenyon, said LGA is being exploited by specific communities at the expense of others.
As city leaders know best, LGA is a vital tool for holding down local property tax levies and building strong communities. The CGMC was involved in the 2013 reform of the LGA formula, and believes it reflects a fair compromise for all cities.
LGA has received broad, bipartisan support throughout the program’s history. Unfortunately, however, some lawmakers and candidates continue to perpetuate misconceptions. The CGMC created a handout to dispel some of these common myths about LGA, which we shared with all of the GOP candidates running for governor after some of them made inaccurate comments about the program at a candidate forum last summer.
The CGMC will continue to monitor and respond to statements and proposals regarding LGA and other important issues throughout the 2018 election cycle.
Gubernatorial candidates St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, State Rep. Tina Liebling and State Rep. Erin Murphy — all DFLers — met with the CGMC Board of Directors on Nov. 15 or Nov. 16 in Alexandria, the first in a series of planned meetings with candidates running for governor. Several other candidates are scheduled to meet with the board at upcoming meetings in December and January.
To help the candidates prepare, CGMC staff sent them our “Elections 2018” information packet about the issues important to CGMC members including LGA, economic development, transportation, environmental regulations and annexation. At the meetings, CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson asked the candidates a series of questions on these topics before turning it over to the board for additional questions.
Mayor Coleman touted his experience in local government, noting his 12 years as mayor of St. Paul and six years on the City Council, as well as his involvement with non-partisan organizations like the National League of Cities. He emphasized the importance of “investing in our communities” through things like LGA and funding for local roads and other infrastructure. He said he wants to “stand with [the CGMC] on LGA” and supports an inflationary increase. He also expressed support for raising the gas tax to fund transportation needs. When asked about environmental regulations, Coleman said the state should not impose regulations that are financially impossible for cities to meet and said the state needs to give cities more resources to comply with standards.
Rep. Liebling, a seven-term legislator from Rochester, said she is running for governor because she believes “politics should be about improving people’s lives” and wants to help “ordinary Minnesotans.” She noted that she has supported LGA as a legislator and appreciates its role in preventing extremes (in terms of wealthy vs. poor communities) in our state. She expressed frustration at the “dishonest” way Minnesota does its budget because the state does not currently factor in inflation, and said that she would do so if elected governor. Other priorities for Rep. Liebling included health care, education and economic development as a priority, particularly providing more resources for cities to upgrade their broadband infrastructure. When it comes to environmental regulations, she said she would like to see the state take the cost burden off the property taxpayers and also look for alternative ways to meet standards rather than a “one size fits all” approach.
Rep. Murphy, a six-term legislator from St. Paul, stressed her passion for public service and her desire to build our state’s future by developing long-term solutions. When discussing her budget priorities, Rep. Murphy said she would “fully fund LGA,” and that schools and health care are also at the top of her list. She expressed concern about the rising costs that cities face, particularly in regard to health insurance and water infrastructure. She said she would make water infrastructure a top bonding priority and that she supports raising the gas tax to fund transportation. Rep. Murphy also said that if elected, she would work closely with city leaders to develop to environmental regulations and other policies that affect cities.
You can learn more about the candidates and their priorities at their campaign websites:
As we gear up for the 2018 election, the CGMC has extended invitations to gubernatorial candidates to meet with the CGMC Board of Directors this fall and winter. The first of these meetings are scheduled to take place next week, with additional meetings to follow in December and January (other meetings will be added if more candidates join the race).
To help the candidates prepare for the meeting, CGMC staff sent them an information packet titled “Elections 2018: Greater Minnesota’s Top Issues”, which provides information about number of issues that are important to Greater Minnesota communities including LGA, economic development, transportation and environmental regulation.
In a Star Tribune editorial published last Sunday, columnist Lori Sturdevant wrote about the state’s failure over the past decade to fund Local Government Aid (LGA) on par with inflation and how this lagging investment in LGA has led to higher local property taxes.
The column highlights the recent announcement of proposed property tax increases in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis proposed a 5.5 percent increase, while St. Paul is looking into a 23.9 percent increase (the large increase is to make up for the city’s right-of-way assessment, which was ruled unconstitutional in court). Sturdevant notes that if LGA funding had kept pace with inflation, property taxpayers across the state would not be shouldering such a significant burden.
The CGMC is grateful that the LGA program has long received broad, bi-partisan support, but as Sturdevant’s column mentions, some GOP gubernatorial candidates recently made concerning statements about LGA. As we reported in a previous edition of the CGMC in Brief, at a Republican gubernatorial candidate forum in July, two candidates made comments that reflect common misconceptions or outright falsehoods about the program — while the other candidates chose not to answer the LGA question at all. In particular, Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) mischaracterized LGA as taking money out of the pockets of taxpayers and sending over half of it to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. Rep. Dean also said that the program is “not a fair deal” for middle-class Minnesotans.
A transcript of the forum discussion regarding LGA can be read here, while video of the entire forum can be streamed here (the LGA comments begin around 1:26:50).
In response to these comments, then-CGMC President Sara Carlson sent a letter to all of the candidates who participated in the forum to set the record straight. The CGMC has always been vigilant in protecting the LGA program and refuting false claims about it. As we head toward the 2018 election, the CGMC will continue to monitor political forums and other events. As a non-partisan organization, we strive to inform and educate all candidates about LGA and other issues that are important to Greater Minnesota communities.