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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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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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News Advisory
Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities
Contact: Julie Liew
jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
651-259-1917

Rural voters sent a loud message last fall that they felt left out and left behind. State legislators should be deeply concerned about the lack of progress on rural priorities.

Who: Sara Carlson, Mayor of Alexandria and CGMC President; Dave Smiglewski, Mayor of Granite Falls and CGMC Vice President; Craig Clark, Austin City Administrator, and other Greater Minnesota city leaders

What: Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities Press Conference

When:  11 a.m., Thursday, May 11

Where: Press Conference Room B971, State Capitol basement

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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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.

 

For Immediate Release: Feb. 28, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

Below is statement from CGMC President and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson regarding this morning’s announcement that the state’s budget surplus has increased to $1.65 billion.

“With this new budget forecast, the Legislature and Governor have no excuses for not passing a $45.5 million increase in Local Government Aid this year. The state’s economy is clearly flourishing and there is strong bipartisan support for an LGA increase, so it’s a no-brainer that this is the year to make it happen.

“LGA is the single most important state program to help communities hold down property taxes and pay for key city services that affect all of our residents and businesses. The CGMC’s top priority this legislative session is bringing LGA funding back up to its 2002 benchmark. A modest increase of $45.5 million will get us there. With today’s budget announcement there is no reason why our rural legislators can’t use their influence to make this LGA increase happen this session.”

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A PDF version of this press release is available here.

For Immediate Release: Jan. 30, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

Bill to boost LGA funding generates strong bipartisan support
Rural, urban and suburban legislators sign on to legislation that adds $45.5M to LGA program

ST. PAUL—Under new legislation introduced today, cities across Minnesota could see an increase in the amount of Local Government Aid they receive from the state.

SF 476, authored by Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne), and HF 672, authored by Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), would add $45.5 million to the LGA program over the next two years. This legislation would bring funding for the LGA program back to its 2002 benchmark.

“I want to thank Sen. Weber and Rep. Anderson, and all of the co-authors, for their commitment to ensuring that every community in our state can continue to be a great place to live and work,” said Sara Carlson, mayor of Alexandria and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “LGA is absolutely essential to keeping our cities and state strong, and this legislation gives it a much-needed boost.”

The bill is notable for its wide mix of co-authors representing districts in every corner of the state.

In addition to Sen. Weber, the Senate bill has four co-authors (the maximum number allowed in that body): Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona), Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) and Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis).

In the House, which has no limit on the number of co-authors, chief author Rep. Anderson is joined by 17 others: Rep. Keith Franke (R-St. Paul Park), Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), Rep. Clark Johnson (DFL-North Mankato), Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent), Rep. John Poston (R-Lake Shore), Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud), Rep. Matt Grossell (R-Clearbrook), Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia), Rep. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City), Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead), Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls), Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley), Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis).

“The fact that this bill has attracted legislators from both political parties and all parts of the state – rural, urban and suburban – just goes to show how important LGA is,” Carlson said. “It can be a real challenge for lawmakers to find common ground these days, but it’s clear that there is strong bipartisan support for LGA.”

Securing an LGA increase has been the top priority for the CGMC for the past two years. The Legislature last increased funding for LGA in 2014, but the overall state appropriation has not kept up with inflation and still lags behind where it was 15 years ago. If the Legislature does not pass a tax bill with an LGA increase this year, the total amount of LGA cities receive will remain frozen.

“LGA allows cities to provide important services and keep property taxes in check,” Carlson said. “With rapidly rising costs, we cannot afford another year of stagnant LGA. We hope the Legislature will support this legislation to help strengthen cities across Minnesota.”

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 88 cities outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Coalition educates legislators about issues important to Greater Minnesota. Visit the CGMC online at greatermncities.org.

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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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Below is statement from Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities President and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson on Governor Dayton’s announcement that he has laid out the terms under which he would call a special session. A PDF version of Carlson’s statement is available here.

“We strongly support Gov. Dayton’s call for a special session. In particular, we are pleased to see that his proposal includes several top priorities for Greater Minnesota cities, including a $20 million increase in LGA, $133 million for clean water infrastructure grants and loans and funding for numerous bonding projects throughout the state.

It appears the ball is now in the legislative leaders’ court. We are actively encouraging Greater Minnesota city leaders and residents to contact the legislative leaders and their own legislators to urge them to support Governor Dayton’s special session terms. Minnesotans deserve action on the tax and bonding bills, as well as a quick resolution to their concerns about rising health insurance costs. The legislative leaders should support the Governor’s plan for special session so our communities and the state can move forward.”

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