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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.

On Tuesday, Gov. Dayton announced he would sign all of the budget bills passed by the Legislature, as well as the bonding and tax bills. Nonetheless, significant controversy continues. Here’s a play-by-play of the final days of the special session, including the CGMC perspective on what may come:

Special session marked by frustration
Before the Legislature had even sent Gov. Dayton all of its budget bills, loud protests rang through the Capitol urging the Governor to “veto everything.” Activists were angered by the perception that Republican leadership in the Legislature had sneaked controversial provisions into a number of bills after reaching an agreement with Gov. Dayton.

Late in the week, it seemed that the tax bill (which includes a $15 million LGA increase) was a possible veto target. Gov. Dayton and other Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, expressed concern over the high cost of the GOP’s tax bill, which comes in at $650 million in the first biennium and grows substantially thereafter. Sen. Bakk urged Gov. Dayton to veto the bill to avoid future deficits.

Legislature tries to tie Dayton’s hands
To pressure Gov. Dayton into signing the tax bill, legislators inserted a provision into a state government funding bill without the Governor’s knowledge. The provision would have withheld all funding for the operation of the Department of Revenue unless Gov. Dayton signed the tax bill. On Tuesday, House Speaker Kurt Daudt acknowledged to reporters the provision was placed in the bill behind Gov. Dayton’s back. When asked if the Governor knew about the provision in advance, Speaker Daudt replied, “He found it eventually.”

Dayton signs budget bills, but responds with his own maneuvers
In response to the Legislature’s maneuver, Gov. Dayton wrote to leaders, “I consider this provision … to be a reprehensible sneak attack, which shatters whatever trust we achieved.” Angered by the perceived slight, Gov. Dayton signed all of the budget bills, but used his line-item veto power to strike any new funding for the operation of the Legislature itself. Gov. Dayton indicated that vetoing the Legislature’s funding was a move to bring legislators back to the negotiating table. Arguing they had not negotiated in good faith, the Governor wants to re-open negotiations on items in the tax bill including tax freezes on cigarettes and the state commercial/industrial property tax.

Rather than return to the negotiating table, the Legislature is likely to sue the Governor on constitutional grounds. The courts will be asked to determine whether the Governor in fact has the authority to use his veto pen to eliminate funding for another, co-equal branch of government.
 
The CGMC perspective
Regardless of how the controversy plays out, provisions in the tax bill that benefit CGMC members cities, such as the $15 million LGA increase and LGA formula fixes, are not likely to be impacted. A lawsuit between branches of government would be on the narrow issue of the Legislature’s funding. In the unlikely scenario that negotiations do restart, they will likely be limited to just a few controversial items. The CGMC will continue to monitor developments.

Final outcome of CGMC priorities
For a brief overview of how the CGMC’s top legislative priorities fared this session, please see this 2017 Outcomes Chart.

The House and Senate, purportedly in agreement with Gov. Dayton, passed a tax bill today that comes in around $648 million for the 2018-19 biennium. The bill includes a permanent $15 million increase in Local Government Aid. To see a preliminary estimate of how your city will do with this increase, click HERE for the CGMC’s updated LGA run.

We want to extend a sincere THANK YOU to everyone who responded to our numerous Action Alerts by contacting your legislators and the Governor about the need for an increase in LGA funding. We were hoping for a larger increase, and we will continue the fight, but it was thanks to your help that this final number is higher than previous proposals from both the House and Senate.
 
Here are links to the SPREADSHEET and BILL LANGUAGE for the tax bill.

Last night’s legislative deadline sailed by without action on several key bills, including the tax bill (which includes Local Government Aid funding). Governor Dayton immediately called a special session at 12:01 a.m. this morning, which means legislators are continuing their work to pass budget bills. There is still hope for an LGA increase, but we need your help!

Take action now!
If we are going to secure an LGA increase, it is imperative that you contact Governor Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka by 3 p.m. TODAY. Tell them that the final tax bill must include a permanent $20 million increase in LGA per year over the next two years.

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.

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.)

One week from today is the constitutional deadline for the state Legislature to wrap up its regular session, so you can expect a lot of movement this week on a number of CGMC proposals. For starters, the House is prepared to increase the amount of its bonding proposal from $600 million to $800 million through an amendment in the Ways & Means Committee tomorrow.

CLICK HERE for a spreadsheet of the projects included in the House proposal. Below are a couple of the priorities the CGMC is focusing on. 

Wastewater Infrastructure

The CGMC has been advocating this session for $167 million in bonding funds to go toward wastewater infrastructure funding in three categories: Point Source Implementation Grants; Wastewater Infrastructure Funding; and State Matching for USEPA Capitalization Grants.

Currently, the Senate’s bonding bill has a total of $133.5 million allocated for wastewater, but the House version comes in much lower at $105.3 million. The CGMC will be advocating this week for the House to move closer to the Senate’s position. Our priority will be that the bulk of this increase be in the category of Point Source Implementation Grants. These grants are the most direct way to get funding to our CGMC cities for wastewater projects.

Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant Program (BDPI)

BDPI is a popular grant program for Greater Minnesota cities that has been beneficial to a number of our members. Due to its popularity, however, the fund will be depleted if no bonding bill passes this year. This session, the CGMC sought to replenish the program with a $15 million bonding allocation.

Currently, both the Senate and House versions of the bonding bill contain $12 million for the program. While we will continue to advocate for a higher number, $12 million is a good amount that will provide funds for much needed projects around the state. The CGMC will be lobbying to ensure this number either grows or goes no lower than it currently is as the bill heads toward final passage.

Stay tuned!

CGMC updates and Action Alerts will come more frequently now that the Legislature is in the home stretch. To stay up to date on all the action at the legislature, follow the CGMC on Twitter and check out the CGMC website regularly.

If you have any questions, please email us at CGMC_Communications@flaherty-hood.com.

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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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. 

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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On Wednesday, the Senate Taxes Committee heard testimony on the $300 million tax plan Governor Dayton proposed last month. The broad-ranging proposal includes a $20 million increase in LGA.  While a $20 million increase would be a step in the right direction, the CGMC’s top priority continues to be restoring LGA to its 2002 funding level, which would require an increase of $45.5 million.

CGMC lobbyist Bradley Peterson testified in front of the committee. Peterson thanked the Governor and legislators for recognizing the vital role LGA plays in allowing cities to provide essential services like fire and police, and helping to hold down local property taxes. However, he made clear to the committee that the conversation on LGA increases should begin at $45.5 million, not at $20 million. He urged the senators to support legislation proposed by Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) that would fully restore LGA to its 2002 level over the course of two years. Weber’s bill, SF 476, has been referred to the Senate Taxes Committee. The House version of the legislation, HF 672, was introduced by Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), with broad, bi-partisan support.
 
The CGMC will continue to advocate for a substantial increase in LGA funding, and will make clear to the Legislature that the 2017 session cannot be considered a success unless they pass a comprehensive tax bill that includes additional LGA funds.