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Energy & Environment

For Immediate Release
Nov. 17, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com 

A PDF version of this press release is available here.                                                                            

Greater Minnesota city leaders to state lawmakers: Now is not the time to press the pause button

ALEXANDRIA, MINN.— As the legal fight over funding for the Legislature drags on and the 2018 governor’s race heats up, Greater Minnesota city leaders are urging lawmakers to keep their focus on the upcoming legislative session and not fall prey to distractions. 

More than 100 other city officials from throughout Greater Minnesota convened in Alexandria this week for the CGMC’s annual two-day fall conference. At the event, CGMC members adopted the organization’s policy positions and discussed legislative priorities for the 2018 legislative session. While a bonding bill, local government aid (LGA) and city streets were among the top issues, city leaders also stressed the importance of making sure legislators stay on task.

“Now is not the time to press the pause button,” said Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski, who serves as president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “Greater Minnesota still has a lot of unaddressed needs. We are counting on our legislators to stay focused on their jobs and their commitment to strengthening our communities.”

Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson voiced concern that with an election looming, legislators may be more interested in touting accomplishments from last session than passing new legislation in 2018.

“The Legislature may have passed tax, transportation and bonding bills last year, but that doesn’t mean their job is done for the biennium,” said Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson. “Truth is, the progress made in 2017 only scratches the surface when it comes to meeting all of the ongoing and growing needs in our city and others in Greater Minnesota.”

City officials who attended the conference agreed that a bonding bill likely poses the best hope for passing a piece of major legislation in 2018, noting that many legislators have voiced a desire for a large public works bill to make key investments in the state’s infrastructure. While each city has its own individual needs, a recurring theme throughout Greater Minnesota is the need for additional state bonding dollars to help repair or replace aging waste water treatment facilities.

In addition to bonding, the CGMC plans to advocate for an LGA increase to help cities make up for inflation and increasing costs, as well as funding to assist with much-needed repairs to city streets. There are also a number of issues on the horizon that the CGMC hopes the Legislature will keep on its radar, including the impact a national tax overhaul could have on local communities and the growing child care shortage in Greater Minnesota.

“Legislators and the Governor will have plenty of work to cram into a few short weeks,” Smiglewski said. “Residents of Greater Minnesota expect our state leaders to set their squabbles aside, buckle down and pass legislation that will invest in the future of our communities.”

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The MPCA began hearings this week on the sulfate water quality standard which will apply to facilities that discharge into “wild rice waters.” Cities located within 25-60 miles upstream of such waters will be evaluated first by the MPCA to determine whether a limit is required. CGMC members on the list include Alexandria, Babbitt, Bagley, Bemidji, Biwabik, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Ely, Foley, Hinckley, Hoyt Lakes, Le Sueur (Minnesota River Valley Public Utilities Commission), Plainview, Princeton, Red Wing, Rushford, Sandstone, Staples, Wabasha, Wadena and Winona.
 
Our preliminary analysis demonstrates that future compliance with the sulfate standard could require expensive treatment upgrades such as reverse osmosis, membrane filtration, and/or crystallization and evaporation. These upgrades could cost individual cities $10-$20 million or more, depending upon site-specific information. 
 
We recommend that affected cities participate in the rulemaking process by submitting comments and/or attending a public hearing. Hearings began Oct. 23 in St. Paul, and will be held around the state over the next few weeks. You can find a complete list of hearings here.
 
We are in the process of finalizing our talking points for affected cities and will be circulating those soon. If you would like a copy or have other questions, please email Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

Each fall, CGMC members work together to shape the Coalition’s policy positions for the upcoming legislative session. Policy committees will be convening by conference call in October and early November to draft recommendations which will be discussed and voted on by the full membership at the Fall Conference Nov. 16-17. Serving on a policy committee is a great way to contribute to the work of the CGMC. Please contact the appropriate staff member listed below if you are interested in serving on one or more of the committees. The exact meeting dates and times will be determined soon.

The Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) is responsible for recommending how $45.7 million from the Environmental Trust Fund should be spent. The LCCMR received a total of 217 proposals requesting approximately $183 million in funding, and narrowed it down to 101 projects requesting $120.4 million for proposals to present over the next two weeks.

A number of the projects in the running for funding could benefit Greater Minnesota. Proposal 201-G would provide $3 million for local parks, trails and natural areas grants. These grant programs provide funding to projects that do not qualify for Legacy funds and they are a top priority for the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails organization to which many CGMC cities belong. 

In another proposal, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking funding for a wastewater treatment plant optimization pilot program (proposal 035-B) that would seek ways to help facilities perform better and meet stricter standards without costly facility upgrades. CGMC cities would be eligible to apply for the pilot if it is funded.

You can review these projects and others selected here (the projects that will present to the LCCMR are marked with an X).

Please consider reaching out to LCCMR members and ask them to support projects that benefit Greater Minnesota, particularly the two mentioned above. You can find the members’ contact information here.

The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) is public body composed of several agency heads, as well as members of the public appointed by the Governor. The EQB provides leadership and coordination on statewide environmental issues including environmental review, state water planning and coordination, and strategic energy and environmental planning. This year, the Legislature expanded the number of citizen slots and specifically designated four for Greater Minnesota, one from each of the rural congressional districts 1,2, 7 and 8.

The posting for these positions will remain open until filled, but the first review of applications will take place Aug. 25. You can learn more here.

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-supported environmental regulatory reform bill, SF 695 (authored by Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson), was heard Monday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee. The bill addresses concerns that current law that gives too much deference to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) without allowing for valid objections to water quality rules and the MPCA’s practice of relying on unadopted rules. 

CGMC lobbyist Marty Seifert, Flaherty & Hood environmental attorney Daniel Marx and Mankato Public Utilities Director Mary Fralish testified in support of the bill at the hearing. Several environmental groups spoke against the bill, but their comments did not really address the substance of the proposed legislation. Due to the complex nature of this bill, it will need to pass through several committees. The committee voted to pass it along to its next stop, the State Government Finance Committee.

Please be aware that were has been some misleading information distributed about SF 695. If you hear opposition to this bill from your residents, please contact Tim Flaherty at 651-224-8840 or tpflaherty@flaherty-hood.com to receive more information about the bill. We also encourage you to read this informational handout that describes in more detail what the bill does and its purpose.

A second bill CGMC-supported bill, SF 672, was also scheduled to be heard on Monday, but the meeting ran out of time. It will likely be heard next week.

A PDF version of this press release is available here.

For Immediate Release: Jan. 5, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

Rural voters felt left out and left behind — now is the time for action to strengthen Greater Minnesota

ST. PAUL—As new and returning lawmakers convene in St. Paul for the first week of the 2017 legislative session, city leaders from Greater Minnesota are urging them to heed the messages that rural voters sent when they cast their ballots last November.

“One major theme that came out of the election is that voters in rural Minnesota – and other rural areas throughout the country – feel left behind,” said Bradley Peterson, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC), during a conference call with members of the press this morning. “Residents in Greater Minnesota want strong communities and opportunities for their families and businesses. They are sick of having their needs swept under the rug; they want to be part of the narrative.”

For city officials like Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson (who serves as president of the CGMC), Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski and Morris City Manager Blaine Hill, being “part of the narrative” means the Legislature must finally tackle – and pass – legislation that addresses the needs of their communities. The three city leaders joined Thursday’s conference call, where they outlined the CGMC’s top legislative priorities for 2017.

“With a GOP-led House and Senate and a DFL governor, we have no illusions that it will be easy to pass legislation this year,” Carlson said. “That is why we came up with a fair and reasonable list of priorities that will go a long way to help Greater Minnesota and which we believe will be greeted with strong bipartisan support.”

At the top of the list is a goal that has CGMC has been pursuing for the past two years – a $45.5 million increase in Local Government Aid (LGA), which is the amount needed to bring the program back to its 2002 funding level. With the Legislature’s failure to pass a tax bill two years in a row, LGA funding has been kept stagnant while cities’ costs continue to rise.

“LGA means many different things to Greater Minnesota cities,” Carlson said. “It means being able to afford the basic services our residents expect, like police and fire protection, sidewalks and well-maintained streets. It enables us to provide the kind of quality of life that our residents want and deserve with amenities like parks, libraries and swimming pools. And it plays a critical role in keeping local property taxes in check.”

The CGMC is also hopeful that lawmakers will pass some form of transportation funding this year, an issue that has proven to be the source of much controversy at the Legislature in recent years.

“Realistically, we know that passing a comprehensive transportation package this year is a tall order,” Smiglewski said. “We would still like to see a large-scale investment in transportation, but at the very least we think our lawmakers can reach an agreement to pass some much-needed funding for city streets and the Corridors of Commerce program.”

The CGMC is seeking $369 million for Corridors of Commerce, which aims to reduce bottlenecks and barriers to freight on the state’s highways. It is also asking the Legislature for $50 million in funding to help cities repair their crumbling streets, an amount that would be divided equally between cities under 5,000 in population (which currently receive no state assistance for street funding) and those over 5,000.

The CGMC also has another holdover from 2017 on its list of priorities: the bonding bill. Specifically, the CGMC is seeking $167 million in bonding dollars for grant and loan programs that help cities pay for upgrades or repairs to their water treatment facilities. Gov. Dayton included this funding in his bonding proposal, which he unveiled yesterday.

“Like LGA and safe streets, clean water is a quality of life issue,” said Hill, whose city – Morris – is among several Greater Minnesota cities that are facing multi-million-dollar costs to build or upgrade their drinking or wastewater plants to meet new regulations and replace outdated infrastructure.

“Clean water is a fundamental need in any community, but the infrastructure costs are extremely high and unaffordable,” Hill continued. “The House, Senate and Governor all supported including funding for clean water infrastructure in the bonding bill last session, and we hope that support amounts to actual dollars this year. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Now that the legislative session has begun, Carlson and the other city officials are hopeful that the Legislature will listen to the concerns expressed by residents in Greater Minnesota and finally take action on the key issues that have gone unaddressed for far too long.

“The 2017 legislative session will be a test as to which state leaders have truly heard the messages sent from Greater Minnesota,” Carlson said. “Action on LGA, transportation, bonding and other important issues will show that the Governor and legislators really understand the needs of rural businesses and residents.”

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Below is statement from CGMC President and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson regarding Gov. Dayton’s $1.5 billion bonding proposal, which was unveiled this morning. A PDF version of Carlson’s statement is available here.

“We absolutely agree with the Governor that there should be a robust bonding bill this session. Our cities cannot wait until 2018 to make these critical investments.

“We are particularly glad that the Governor’s bonding proposal includes $167 million for grant and loan programs that help cities pay for necessary repairs and upgrades to their water treatment facilities. Clean water is an essential part of a healthy community and we are pleased the Governor recognizes that cities need more financial assistance from the state to ensure that all Minnesotans continue to have access to this fundamental need.

“Another positive inclusion in the Governor’s bonding plan is $21 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program. With the help of BDPI grants, more than 100 cities in Greater Minnesota have been able to welcome new businesses and see others expand, all while adding new jobs and increasing the tax base.

“The clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs and the BDPI program have received strong bipartisan support in the past and were included in last year’s final bonding bills. We hope this support continues and that the Legislature makes passing a bonding bill this year a top priority.”

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