Tag Archives: Featured

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.

 

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.

Things are starting to heat up at the Legislature, but lawmakers are still far from reaching agreements on top Greater Minnesota issues like LGA, bonding, transportation, workforce housing and broadband. It’s become apparent that we need to make an extra push in the last few weeks 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 on Wednesday, May 11.

What:              CGMC Lobby Day
Who:               Elected officials, city staff and other community leaders from across Greater Minnesota
When:             10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11
Where:            Office of Flaherty & Hood, P.A. (525 Park St., Suite 470, St. Paul) and lobbying at the Senate Office Building and State Office Building
Cost:               FREE!

Please see this flyer for a tentative schedule of the day. Lobby Day is FREE to attend, but we ask that you RSVP to RSVP@flaherty-hood.com by Monday, May 9.

If you have any questions about the May 11 Lobby Day, contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917.

Register today for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities’ Legislative Action Day 2016! This year’s event will be held Wednesday, March 16. It will kick off with a brief legislative update in the morning, followed by lunch featuring speaker Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (House Speaker Kurt Daudt has also been been invited) at the Flaherty & Hood office in St. Paul. Members will then spend the afternoon meeting with their legislators at the House and Senate offices (members should make their own appointments for meetings with legislators between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. that day). The daylong event concludes with a legislative reception and dinner at Mancini’s Char House & Lounge that evening.

Legislative Action Day is always a great opportunity to build connections between local officials and legislators and advocate for the priorities of Greater Minnesota cities. To RSVP, please fill out this registration form and email it to RSVP@flaherty-hood.com or mail it to the listed address. Please RSVP by March 2.

Below is a guest column by Owatonna Mayor Thomas Kuntz and Glencoe Mayor Randy Wilson, both of whom serve on the CGMC Board of Directors. As of Dec. 10, the column has appeared in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Brainerd Dispatch, Faribault Daily News, Northfield News, Owatonna People’s Press, Marshall Independent, Winona Daily News and the Worthington Daily Globe.

Republican Mayors: House Republicans need to reverse course and support LGA

By Thomas Kuntz and Randy Wilson

As 2015 winds down and we prepare to welcome a new year and a new legislative session, the time has come for us to speak out. As mayors of cities in Greater Minnesota—and as Republicans—we have waited more than a year for the new House Republican majority to show leadership on a key issue affecting communities across Greater Minnesota: Local Government Aid (LGA).

However, the only message House Republicans have sent on LGA has been far from a positive one. Last spring, the House—with support from every rural Republicanpassed a tax bill that would reduce funding for the LGA program by $84 million. This is in stark contrast to the Senate’s version of the tax bill, which includes a $45.5 million increase in LGA funding—the amount needed to get the LGA program back to its 2002 benchmark level.

Minnesota had a nearly $2 billion surplus last session (and it was recently announced that the current surplus remains just as high), which makes it all the more unbelievable that House Republicans voted to cut funding for a program that is the cornerstone of many Greater Minnesota cities. The House Republicans’ stance is wrong for LGA and wrong for Minnesota.

We thought the days of LGA being a political football were behind us. As rural mayors and Republicans ourselves, we can’t fathom why the House would threaten the LGA program like this. LGA helps cities pay for essential services like police and fire protection and street repairs, as well as important quality-of-life amenities like parks and libraries. For many Greater Minnesota cities, LGA is the difference between being a thriving attractive community and being a hollowed out ghost town.

While cutting $84 million out of the LGA program when Minnesota has a significant budget surplus is unjustifiable in its own right, the House’s method of doing so is downright dangerous to the future of the entire program.

The proposed $84 million in cuts are targeted solely at the “first class” cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. The House GOP’s argument for the cuts is that LGA “was never intended” for Minneapolis and St. Paul, that they get “too much” LGA and that they don’t need it because of their large tax bases.

These arguments are completely unfounded. The original 1971 statute on LGA specifically refers to how Minneapolis and St. Paul’s share of aid is calculated. Since the beginning of the program, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth have received a fair share of LGA funding under a formula that is based on a city’s need and tax base. In fact, the percentage share of LGA going to those cities has actually decreased in recent years.

You may be wondering why two mayors from Greater Minnesota are defending Minneapolis and St. Paul. Shouldn’t we be happy that the House is going after the giants rather than us little guys? The fact is that if successful, the House’s attack on LGA severely undermines a program that is vital to many Greater Minnesota communities. If the House GOP succeeds in cutting LGA from the first-class cities, what’s to stop our cities from being on the chopping block next?

We are given hope by the fact that there is still time for the House Republicans to change direction on LGA. They have six months, from now until the end of the legislative session, to show their support for Minnesota cities and the families and businesses who reside in them. It’s time for legislators who say they support LGA and Greater Minnesota communities to start showing it.

State officials announced today that Minnesota’s budget surplus has increased to nearly $1.9 million, up almost $900 million from the previous budget report released a few months ago. You can read more about the surplus and lawmakers’ response in this article from Forum Communications.

In response to the surplus announcement, CGMC President and Ely City Councilor Heidi Omerza released the following statement to the media this afternoon (click here for a PDF version):

“Today’s announcement that the state’s economic recovery has produced a nearly $2 billion surplus is good news for Minnesota. It is important that our lawmakers take this opportunity to position our entire state for continued growth and long-term stability by making strategic investments in local government aid, broadband expansion, workforce housing, job training and other critical needs for Greater Minnesota.

Communities, families and businesses in all parts of the state will be able to reap the benefits of an even stronger economy if lawmakers seize this opportunity to make smart investments in key areas.”

Registration is now open for the CGMC Fall Conference! To register, please fill out this registration form and submit it electronically or mail it to the listed address. (Note: If you have trouble opening the interactive form on your computer, please choose the option to “open with a different viewer.”)

We have a great program lined up! Since it will be just days after the election, the event will kick off with an election re-cap in which we will explore the results from a Greater Minnesota perspective. That session will be followed by a transportation panel discussion featuring legislators who are leaders on the issue. Later in the afternoon, policy expert and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner will discuss his study titled “Finding the Voice for Rural Minnesota,” which explores Greater Minnesota’s role and influence in the state’s decision-making process. That evening, attendees will join members of the League of Minnesota Cities-Metro Region group for a social hour reception, followed by a dinner featuring veteran WCCO Political Reporter Pat Kessler as the keynote speaker. Kessler will share his insight and observations from his 30 years of experience covering Minnesota politics, as well as provide advice on how interest groups like the CGMC can stay relevant and be effective in shaping public policy.

On Friday morning, the CGMC will hold a membership meeting in which members will review and vote on the CGMC’s 2015 policy positions, as well as receive updates on the recent legal challenge to MPCA water quality standards and other CGMC initiatives.

The CGMC has reserved a block of rooms at the Ramada Plaza for $105 (plus tax). The rate is guaranteed until Oct. 30. Attendees are responsible for making their own hotel reservations. Call the Ramada Plaza at 612-331-1900 to make reservations.