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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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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.

With mere hours to go until tonight’s midnight deadline, the Minnesota Legislature is hard at work trying to negotiate and pass a state budget and other key pieces of legislation. At this point it appears we are likely headed for a short special session to complete the state budget.

Legislators were holed up in St. Paul over the weekend and managed to pass a few budget bills out of the House and Senate, including the environment and jobs bills. A number of bills are still on the agenda for today including taxes, transportation and bonding.

Since most of the negotiations have been going on behind closed doors – leaving the public, the media and lobbyists out of the legislative process — we have little indication of what will be included in the final bills.

If you have not done so already, now would be an excellent time to respond to this CGMC Action Alert by contacting your legislators and Gov. Dayton to urge them to include a significant increase in Local Government Aid in the final tax bill.

The environmental bill is one of the few bills that passed on Sunday and is now expected to be signed into law by the Governor. Unfortunately, due to continuing opposition from the Governor and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, many of the significant environmental reforms sought by the CGMC were stripped from the final bill, including our call for independent peer review of proposed rules and a prohibition against the enforcement of unadopted rules. On the plus side, the bill includes our request to extend the public comment period for new city permits to 60 days (up from 30 days) and also includes some policy changes regarding the Impaired Waters List.

As for the jobs bills, which passed early this morning and is also expected to be signed by the Governor, it contains several priorities that are important to rural communities:

  • The Job Training Incentive Program is funded at $2.7 million per biennium for 218-19 and 2020-21
  • The Border-to-Border Broadband Broadband Development Grant Program is funded at $20 million
  • A workforce housing grant program within the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority will receive $4 million per biennium for 2018-19 and 2020-21
  • The Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure program (BDPI) gets $1 million for the 2018-19 biennium (excluding a $1.6 million earmark in FY 18) and approximately $3.6 million for the 2020-21 biennium. The BDPI program is funded in the proposed bonding bill as well.
  • The Minnesota Investment Fund is funded at $25 million per biennium for 2018-19 and 2020-21
  • The Job Creation Fund receives $17 million for the 2018-19 biennium and $16 million for the 2020-21 biennium

For updates as this final day of session proceeds, please follow us on Twitter (@greatermncities), Facebook and our website (greatermncities.org.)

Time’s almost up!

We are now entering the final days of the legislative session. As the clock winds down, Governor Dayton and legislative leaders remain deep into negotiations with little to show for it thus far. One of the major issues that remains in flux is the tax bill, which is the bill that deals with Local Government Aid.

Take action now!

If we are going to secure an LGA increase, it is absolutely imperative that you contact your legislator and the Governor TODAY. Tell them:

  • The final tax bill must include a $45.5 million increase in LGA.
  • LGA is the single most important tool cities have to hold down property taxes while still providing essential services.
  • With a $1.65 billion state budget surplus, they should easily be able to secure a $45.5 million increase in LGA — the amount needed to bring LGA back to its 2002 level.

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.

For Immediate Release: May 11, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

A PDF version of this press release is available here.

ST. PAUL—With the session deadline looming and little progress thus far on key legislative priorities for rural communities, Greater Minnesota city leaders held a press conference today to caution legislators against repeating last year’s failures on taxes, bonding and transportation.

“Exactly one year ago today, we held a press conference urging legislators to pass an increase in Local Government Aid, a fair and balanced bonding bill and a transportation bill that funds city streets and the Corridors of Commerce program,” said Sara Carlson, Mayor of Alexandria and President of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “Here we are 365 days later and we are still asking for the same things. What does it take for Greater Minnesota’s needs to be addressed?”

Carlson said that rural Minnesota voters sent a strong message in the November election that their needs and concerns had been ignored for too long. At the start of the session, many city leaders were hopeful that Greater Minnesota issues would get more attention this year since rural legislators make up the majority of the Republican caucus in both the House and Senate. However, with less than two weeks left in the session, serious questions remain about the Legislature’s willingness to invest in rural priorities.

At the top of that list is an increase in Local Government Aid (LGA), the state program that provides property tax relief and allows cities of all sizes to have a similar level of services regardless of their wealth. Nearly 96 percent of Greater Minnesota cities, and 89 percent of cities statewide, receive LGA.

The CGMC is seeking a permanent $45.5 million increase in LGA funding, the amount needed to bring the program back to its 2002 level. The joint House and Senate tax bill doesn’t come close to this benchmark — it includes just a $6 million one-time increase for 2018. Under the bill, LGA would revert back to the 2017 funding level the following year.

“The Legislature’s tax bill fails on LGA,” Carlson said. “No state program does more to improve the quality of life and economic competitiveness of Greater Minnesota communities than LGA. I am perplexed as to why our legislators are not investing more into the program.”

Carlson noted that Gov. Dayton has already pledged to veto the tax bill, a decision the CGMC supports. “The Governor should demand a significant and permanent LGA increase in the final tax bill,” she said.

City leaders are also united in their support for a bonding bill this session. For Greater Minnesota cities, the most critical item in this bill is additional money for grant and loan programs that provide funding for wastewater infrastructure.

There is broad bipartisan support for this funding: the Governor’s bonding proposal includes $167 million, while the Senate bill has $133 million and the House bill has $105 million. However, with vastly different ideas about the overall size of the bonding bill — the House bill totals only $600 million, while the Governor’s plan is nearly $1.5 billion — passing a bill could be difficult.

“We cannot wait another year for a bonding bill,” said Austin City Administrator Craig Clark.  “Like many cities in Greater Minnesota, we are facing massive costs to repair and upgrade our water treatment facilities. If we don’t receive more financial help, cities have no choice but to pass those costs onto our residents and businesses.”

Another long-standing area of concern is transportation. Although city officials want the state to invest more in transportation — particularly city streets and the Corridors of Commerce program — they cautioned the Legislature and Governor against relying too heavily on the general fund.

“Taking too much general fund money for transportation could have a harmful effect on other important priorities like LGA, education and public safety,” said Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski. “A smart transportation plan that looks out for the long-term success of our state should include a mix of new revenue along with a modest amount of general fund dollars.”

In the waning days of session, the city leaders said they plan to be in frequent contact with their local legislators and other key lawmakers to encourage them to take action on key Greater Minnesota priorities.

“No one wants a repeat of last year,” Smiglewski said, referring to the last-minute failure of several key bills. “Luckily, there is still time for our legislators to make this session a ‘win’ for Greater Minnesota.”

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For Immediate Release: May 4, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

A PDF version of this press release is available here.

ST. PAUL—City leaders in Greater Minnesota are voicing frustration with their legislators this week after the Tax Conference Committee unveiled a tax bill proposal that fails to adequately invest in rural communities.

The tax plan, released Monday night by the joint House and Senate conference committee, includes a meager $6 million increase in Local Government Aid (LGA) funding for 2018. Because it is just a one-time, one-year increase, LGA would revert back to its current funding level in 2019. City leaders argue this low amount does little to address their cities’ growing needs and is especially unacceptable given the state’s current solid financial footing.

“Greater Minnesota is once again left out and left behind in the tax bill,” said Sara Carlson, mayor of Alexandria and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “With a $1.65 billion budget surplus and in the context of a $1.15 billion tax plan, the Legislature can and should do better for LGA.”

An LGA increase is the number one priority for the CGMC this legislative session. The organization is advocating for a $45.5 million increase for the 2018-19 biennium, the amount needed to bring the program back to its 2002 funding level. Since the Legislature has not passed an LGA increase in the past two years, the token $6 million bump in this year’s conference committee tax proposal would not even begin to cover a basic inflationary increase.

“Rural Minnesotans and Greater Minnesota cities should be and will be upset if this LGA situation is not rectified,” Carlson said. “LGA is essential to keeping our communities healthy and our property taxes down. With just over two weeks left in session, now is the time to speak up and let our legislators know that LGA is too important to be ignored. Before the session ends, the Legislature and Governor must come to an agreement on a significant permanent increase.”

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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 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.