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CGMC Programs

Below is a guest column by Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams and Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges, who also serve as co-chairs of the CGMC Environment Committee. As of April 28, it is has been published in the Fargo Forum and the Owatonna People’s Press.

Let us be clear: It’s possible to support regulatory reform and the environment at the same time.

Some interest groups, lawmakers and government officials have tried to paint municipal groups seeking to reform Minnesota’s regulatory process as anti-environment and anti-science, greedy penny-pinchers bought and sold by corporate interests. That picture couldn’t be further from the truth.

In actuality, we are city leaders who represent our communities, as well as dozens of others in Greater Minnesota, and are dedicated to protecting our state’s precious waters. Greater Minnesota cities have invested billions in clean water efforts in the last 30 years, and as practical environmentalists we are deeply troubled by some of the recent actions by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

We are advocating for reasonable regulatory reform not because we want to ignore science — to the contrary, we are doing so because we strongly believe that sound science and public input is vital to an effective clean water regulatory framework.

While numerous environmental reform proposals have been introduced this legislative session, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) has determined three top priorities that will help improve the wastewater permitting process and ensure that our limited financial resources are spent wisely to implement regulations that will provide measurable benefits to water quality.

The first reform local government officials are seeking is the ability to request an independent scientific review of MPCA’s application of science through wastewater regulations. When new regulations will require cities to spend billions of dollars to upgrade infrastructure, our citizens and businesses deserve an independent second opinion.

There is currently no meaningful way for cities to obtain an independent scientific review of MPCA’s regulations. In recent years, cities have been forced to enter into litigation when the MPCA has ignored legitimate concerns about the underlying science and its application.

The MPCA should welcome independent peer review of their science because it will confirm that water-quality rules are scientifically sound, help to avoid costly litigation and ultimately improve environmental outcomes.

City leaders also have serious qualms about the MPCA’s habit of imposing water-quality restrictions — under the guise of “policies” or “guidance documents” — that are more stringent than adopted during rulemaking. To address this concern, the CGMC is pursuing legislation that prevents the MPCA from imposing regulations that were not properly adopted through the rulemaking process.

By forcing cities to comply with unadopted rules, the MPCA imposes requirements that have not gone through the proper vetting process and ignores the due process rights of the public. Not only does this practice make it very difficult for cities to strategize and plan for how to adhere to regulations, it also breaks down trust between the MPCA, cities and the public.

The CGMC’s third regulatory reform proposal would extend the public comment period for new city permits to 60 days. This minor change is especially important to small cities where city councils meet less frequently and there are fewer staff members. The current 30-day comment period does not allow enough time for cities to adequately analyze and make decisions about MPCA requirements that could have multi-million effects on their communities.

All three of the CGMC’s top environmental regulatory reform proposals — independent peer review of MPCA science, prohibiting the enforcement of unadopted rules and extending the public comment period — remain in play at the Legislature. The House and Senate deserve credit for putting these provisions in their omnibus environment bill, which is currently being reviewed in conference committee.

We want our legislators and Gov. Dayton to know that we are looking out for the best interests of the constituents we represent and the environment, just like they are. Greater Minnesota city leaders — from along the Red River in the north to the Minnesota River in the south and everywhere in between — are willing to continue to invest money and work with the state to clean and protect our waters. However, recent overreach by the MPCA has resulted in an onslaught of regulations that will be extremely costly to implement and have dubious environmental benefit.

We are hopeful that these common-sense reform measures, which aim to protect our communities’ natural and financial resources, will be signed into law this session.

 

There are only a few weeks left in the legislative session, but lawmakers are still far from reaching agreements on top issues like LGA, bonding, transportation, workforce housing and environmental regulatory reform. It’s apparent that we need to make an extra push in these remaining days of session to demand that legislators take action to address the needs and concerns of Greater Minnesota communities. To relay this message, we are asking all Greater Minnesota city officials and community leaders to join us for a special CGMC Lobby Day and Ice cream on Thursday, May 11.

The tentative schedule for the day is as follows:

  • 10 a.m. – Legislative status update and messaging (Room 500 South in the State Office Building, located across the street from the State Capitol)
  • 11 a.m. – Press Conference on Greater Minnesota issues (State Capitol Press Conference Room B971)
  • Afternoon – Meetings with legislators (attendees should make appointments with their own legislators; we may also ask some attendees to participate in additional meetings with key legislators)
  • 2-3 p.m. – Ice cream social with legislators and legislative staff (tentatively scheduled to be held in the basement of the State Capitol)

Lobby Day is FREE to attend, but we ask that you RSVP to RSVP@flaherty-hood.com by Tuesday, May 9. Free parking is available at the Flaherty & Hood office located at 525 Park St. in St. Paul, just one block from the State Capitol.

We hope to get as many city officials to attend as possible! Please share this Lobby Day Flyer and encourage other city officials and staff to join us.

If you have any questions, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917.

The Legislature’s Easter/Passover break begins this weekend and lasts until April 18. Since many legislators head back to their home districts during the break, it is an ideal time to touch in with them and make your voices heard!

As the House and Senate prepare for conference committees and negotiations during the final seven weeks of the legislative session, it is critical that Greater Minnesota city leaders continue to speak up. Let your legislators know that CGMC priorities are important to your community and that you expect them to fight for these priorities to be included in the final deals.

Please take the following actions as soon as you can:

1. Pass a resolution urging the Legislature and Governor to return LGA to its 2002 level. See this sample resolution that you can customize to your own city’s circumstances. In addition to the decision-makers named at the bottom of the resolution, also send a copy to CGMC staff member Shane Zahrt at sazahrt@flaherty-hood.com. We will keep a running list of cities that pass a resolution.

2. Meet with your legislators. Call your senator’s and representative’s office this week to set up a meeting with them during the legislative break. If you are unable to meet in person, schedule a phone meeting instead. You can find contact info for your legislators here.  Please address the following topics during the meeting:

  • The Legislature and Governor must pass a tax bill this year that includes an LGA increase of $45.5 million. Despite significant growth in the state’s budget since 2002, LGA still lags behind. LGA plays an important role in restraining property taxes and helping cities provide important services to residents and businesses.
  • The Legislature and Governor must agree on a bonding bill that funds critical infrastructure across the state. With the failure to agree on a bonding bill last year, work on critical infrastructure has been stalled. The CGMC strongly supports $167 million for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs, as well as $15 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program that helps pay for the public infrastructure needed for private business growth.
  • Fund city streets. The CGMC strongly supports $50 million in funding for city streets, with $25 million for cities with populations under 5,000 and $25 million for cities with populations over 5,000.
  • Pass at least $200 million a year in funding for the Corridors of Commerce program with cash as well as bond proceeds. Corridors of Commerce helps fund expansion of critical interregional corridors whose bottlenecks inhibit the flow of goods and services important to the economy of the whole state.

If you have any questions about these action items, CGMC priorities or the legislative session, please contact CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1911. 

The CGMC has scheduled its 2017 Labor & Employee Relations Seminars for later this spring!  Please mark your calendar for the below date and location that works for you:

  • Thursday, June 1 in Brainerd
  • Thursday, June 8 in New Ulm

The seminar is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with registration beginning at 9:30 a.m.

The seminars focus on practical and legal solutions for providing services and managing employees in local government. They will provide relevant and timely advice on the following topics (and more!):

  • Recruiting and hiring practices
  • Variable pay systems
  • A union’s perspective on negotiations
  • Handling employee groups that can’t get along
  • Updates on settlements, arbitrations and the Legislature

We hope all units of government will send representatives (e.g., managers and administrators, human resources personnel and elected officials) to this valuable program.

Please complete the registration form today as space is limited! You can in send the form by fax (651-225-9088), email (RSVP@flaherty-hood.com) or mail (Flaherty & Hood, P.A., 525 Park St., Suite 470, St. Paul, MN 55103).

For more information, contact Karina Patino at 651-259-1919 or kpatino@flaherty-hood.com.

The Minnesota Senate tax bill, unveiled this morning, contains a $12 million one-time, one-year increase for Local Government Aid in 2018. This is far less than the $45.5 million increase needed to get LGA back to its 2002 funding level. Greater Minnesota senators need to know that the LGA funding in their tax bill is inadequate!

You can view this LGA run to see how the Senate proposal would impact your city’s LGA.

Take action now!

As a Greater Minnesota city leader, it is important that you contact your senator and urge him or her to push for more LGA funding this session.

Tell your senator that:

  • You and other members of your community want the Legislature to pass a $45.5 million LGA increase this session.
  • With a $1.65 billion state budget surplus and a $900 million Senate tax bill, a $45.5 million LGA increase is reasonable and achievable.
  • You are counting on your senator to support this goal and fight for an LGA increase all the way through the end of the legislative session.

Contact info

Questions?

If you have any questions about LGA or the legislative session, please contact Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1911.

The House Tax Committee introduced its omnibus tax bill on Wednesday. Despite including roughly $1.35 billion in tax cuts, the bill (HF 4, authored by Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston), does not include any increase to Local Government Aid (LGA).

CGMC lobbyist Bradley Peterson testified in front of both the House Property Tax Division and the full House Tax Committee this week. He expressed the CGMC’s disappointment in the proposal, and spoke to the vital role that LGA plays in helping cities provide basic services while holding down property taxes.

The House’s failure to propose an LGA increase comes on the heels of the recent announcement that the state’s budget surplus has risen to $1.65 billion. Nonetheless, despite a flourishing economy and overflowing state coffers, legislators have thus far chosen to prioritize other tax cuts rather than restore LGA to its 2002 funding level.

The Senate’s version of the omnibus tax bill has not yet been released. If you have not contacted your senators about the importance of an LGA increase, please do so immediately. Each of these bills has a long way to go before it reaches the Governor’s desk, and the CGMC will continue to advocate for a substantial increase in LGA funding.

As the pace picks up at the Legislature, senators and representatives continue to consider the CGMC’s proposal for a $45.5 million increase in LGA over the next two years. The Legislature failed to pass a tax bill last session, and LGA funding stayed stagnant as a result. It’s time to urge your legislators to finish their work this session by passing a tax bill that includes fully restoring LGA to its 2002 funding level.

Take action now!
As a Greater Minnesota city leader, it is imperative that you contact your own legislators, as well as the chairs of the Senate and House Tax Committees. Let them know that:

  • You and other members of your community expect them to pass a tax bill this session that includes a $45.5 million increase in LGA.
  • LGA plays a vital role in helping cities provide essential services and hold down property taxes.
  • A $45.5 million increase would bring LGA back up to its 2002 level—and this doesn’t even account for inflation.

Contact info

Questions?
If you have any questions about LGA or the legislative session, please contact Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1911.

HF 672, the CGMC-backed bill to finally return the LGA appropriation to its 2002-funding level, was heard in the House Property Tax Division on Monday.

The bill’s author, Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), spoke out strongly for the need for LGA in Greater Minnesota communities. Glencoe Mayor Randy Wilson testified in support of the bill, noting that LGA helps restrain property taxes and fund much-needed city services. After the hearing, the bill was “laid over” for possible inclusion in the eventual House tax bill.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) also brought forward anti-LGA bills which would make arbitrary cuts to LGA based on policy issues not related to city finances or tax base. Specifically, Rep. Drazkowski introduced bills to cut LGA to “sanctuary cities” and to cities that pass ordinances instituting particular workplace regulations. Rep. Drazkowski also pushed for a bill that would deduct a city’s LGA by the amount it pays in lobbying expenses. CGMC lobbyist Bradley Peterson testified against the bill, noting that it unfairly punishes smaller cities and Greater Minnesota cities. He noted that Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz and Fairmont Councilmember Jim Zarling were planning to testify at the hearing but were unable to attend due to a snowstorm, which highlights why lobbying organizations like the CGMC are needed to be the eyes and ears at the Capitol. For a video of some of the hearing’s discussion, click here.

Contact members of the Senate Local Government Committee and urge them to oppose SF 1749!

SF 1749 prohibits a city from pursuing an annexation if the potential annexation area is covered by an orderly annexation agreement with another city

On paper this may sound reasonable, but what happens in practice is that a township will often put two cities against each other to get the best deal for the township, rather than what is best for the region’s development.

Take action now!

SF 1749 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Local Government Committee at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, March 9). Please contact members of the Senate Local Government Committee as soon as possible and urge them to oppose SF 1749.

Let them know that SF 1749 is harmful because:

  • It stifles economic development, particularly in Greater Minnesota.
  • It will prevent cities from having a say in how they develop, and instead gives townships disproportionate leverage in negotiating orderly annexation agreements.
  • It would be a stunning restriction of property owner rights:
    • A landowner could be denied the right to connect with city services when building a home.
    • A business owner could be denied the right to build or expand a business.
    • A city may not be able to include property purchased for public purposes—such as for wastewater treatment, water supply or an industrial park—in its own boundaries.

Contact info

  • To send an email to all the members of the Senate Local Government Committee at once, click here.
  • If you prefer to call or send an email to each committee member separately, their contact info can be found here.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please contact CGMC annexation lobbyist Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1924.

Contact Transportation Committee chairs and urge them to hold hearings on SF 1358/HF 1550 – a bill to fund city streets

As cities continue to fall behind on the maintenance and repairs of their streets, it is crucial that any transportation bill the Legislature passes in 2017 includes funding for city streets!

The CGMC has worked with Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids) and Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley) to introduce a bill, SF 1358/HF 1550, that would raise and allocate $50 million a year for city streets. Under the bill, $25 million would go to cities with populations under 5,000 and $25 million would go to cities with populations over 5,000.

However, this important bill has yet to have a hearing in either the House or Senate. With legislative deadlines fast approaching, it is imperative the bill receive hearings in both bodies so that it can proceed this session.

Take action now!

Please contact Senate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) and House Transportation Committee Chair Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and urge them to hold a hearing on SF 1358/HF 1550. Here is an example of an email to the committee chairs:

Dear Sen. Newman and Rep. Torkelson,

As a city leader, I urge you to hold a hearing on SF 1358/HF 1550, which uses general fund money to provide reliable street aid of $50 million/year to cities. This funding is critical to help us catch up on our city street repairs and maintenance. It is vital that any transportation bill that the Legislature passes this year includes funding for city streets. Thank you for stepping up for city streets!

In addition, please contact your own legislators and ask them to support the bill and encourage Sen. Newman and Rep. Torkelson to hold a hearing.

Contact info

Questions?

If you have any questions, please contact Carolyn Jackson at ccjackson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1928.