Greater Minnesota city leaders expect progress for rural Minnesota in 2017 legislative session

A PDF version of this press release is available here.

For Immediate Release: Nov. 17, 2016
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

ALEXANDRIA, MINN.—With rural legislators now making up more than 60 percent of the Minnesota House and Senate Republican majorities, city leaders from across Greater Minnesota are calling for a renewed focus on the needs of rural communities.

A bipartisan mix of nearly 100 city officials from throughout Greater Minnesota attended the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities’ (CGMC) annual fall conference this week in Alexandria, where the group set its legislative priorities for the upcoming year. Much of the discussion centered on the notion that after two years of bipartisan gridlock, their communities cannot afford to go another year without an increase in Local Government (LGA) and key investments in infrastructure.

“The election results made it clear that voters in Greater Minnesota wanted to shake things up,” said Sara Carlson, mayor of Alexandria and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “With such a strong rural majority in the House and Senate, it’s time for our state leaders to make rural issues a top priority.”

The CGMC determined that passing two hold-overs from the 2016 legislative session — the failed tax and bonding bills — will be their top priority for the upcoming year.

The 2016 tax bill, which was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Dayton due to a drafting error, included a $20 million increase to the LGA program, which helps cities provide important services and keep property taxes in check. At the CGMC conference, city leaders expressed frustration that the modest increase in last year’s bill did not come into fruition. In 2017, they will advocate for $45.5 million increase in LGA funding, the amount needed to bring LGA back to its 2002 level.

“Cities continue to face rising costs. After three years without a significant LGA increase, city budgets and property-taxpayers are starting to feel the strain,” said Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski, who serves as vice-president of the CGMC.

In addition to fighting for more LGA, city leaders vowed to push for a bonding bill that addresses infrastructure needs in Greater Minnesota. Specifically, they are calling on the Legislature to pass a bonding bill that includes $167 million for grant and loan programs that provide funding for clean water infrastructure.

“There was bipartisan support for funding these programs in the bonding bill last year and we hope that support will continue,” Smiglewski said.

As the CGMC prepares for the start of the legislative session on Jan. 3, 2017, city leaders are hopeful that rural issues will be front and center now that the election gave new power to rural Republican legislators, who now hold key leadership positions in both houses.

“The Republicans won the majority by winning seats in Greater Minnesota,” Carlson said. “It should be a no-brainer that the Legislature will prioritize important programs for rural Minnesota this session.”

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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.