Legislators introduce bills to fund Corridors of Commerce

The CGMC supports Corridors of Commerce as a financing program for highway expansion projects. It is MnDOT’s policy to dedicate half of Corridors of Commerce funding to Greater Minnesota and half to the metro area.

Last week, the House Transportation Committee took a detailed look at MnDOT’s selection process, including a Legislative Auditor report which showed how projects are selected based on maintenance and road conditions. Corridors of Commerce provides a separate source of funds for highway expansion. Otherwise, the project selection process does not favor highway expansion or major re-design projects.

Because of this, many legislators like the Corridors of Commerce program. There are currently three bills calling for funding the program. First, there is the CGMC-supported bill, HF677/SF904, authored by Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) and Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault). This bill dedicates $300 million in trunk highway bonds to Corridors of Commerce, as well as $50 million a year of general fund dollars in years there is a budget surplus. The second bill, HF231/SF313, authored by Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton) and Sen. Jasinski, would fund Corridors of Commerce at $200 million a year for two years. The third bill, HF460/SF556, authored by Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) and Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls), dedicates the money generated from the tax on rental vehicles to Corridors of Commerce.

A comprehensive transportation funding package may bring more funding for Corridors of Commerce. However, these bills can travel on their own if the Legislature is unable to reach an agreement on a comprehensive transportation bill this session.

Environmental judicial review bill advances in Senate

The CGMC-supported environmental regulatory reform bill, SF 695 (authored by Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson), was heard Monday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee. The bill addresses concerns that current law that gives too much deference to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) without allowing for valid objections to water quality rules and the MPCA’s practice of relying on unadopted rules. 

CGMC lobbyist Marty Seifert, Flaherty & Hood environmental attorney Daniel Marx and Mankato Public Utilities Director Mary Fralish testified in support of the bill at the hearing. Several environmental groups spoke against the bill, but their comments did not really address the substance of the proposed legislation. Due to the complex nature of this bill, it will need to pass through several committees. The committee voted to pass it along to its next stop, the State Government Finance Committee.

Please be aware that were has been some misleading information distributed about SF 695. If you hear opposition to this bill from your residents, please contact Tim Flaherty at 651-224-8840 or tpflaherty@flaherty-hood.com to receive more information about the bill. We also encourage you to read this informational handout that describes in more detail what the bill does and its purpose.

A second bill CGMC-supported bill, SF 672, was also scheduled to be heard on Monday, but the meeting ran out of time. It will likely be heard next week.

CGMC testifies for LGA increase at committee hearing

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.

Record turnout marks another successful Legislative Action Day

CGMC Legislative Action Day was a huge success!

More than 120 city officials and business leaders from nearly 50 cities attended the CGMC’s annual lobbying event on Wednesday. There was also great attendance from legislators at the reception and dinner that capped off the day at Mancini’s — a bipartisan mix of more than 65 legislators representing both rural and urban districts came to the event.

Legislative Action Day began with a membership meeting in which attendees were apprised of the CGMC’s top legislative priorities and given tips on how to lobby at the Capitol. The meeting was followed by lunch and a panel discussion featuring Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) and Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City). Attendees then spent the afternoon meeting with legislators at the Capitol and urging them to support CGMC proposals on LGA, workforce housing, bonding and other issues. A copy of the lobbying materials that were given to legislators can be found here.

A big thank you to all who participated in this year’s event!

Notes about Legislative Action Day

More than 100 CGMC members are registered to attend our Legislative Action Day this Wednesday, Feb. 1! We are excited to have such a large turnout and look forward to seeing many of you there. Here are few notes about the day for those planning to attend:

Location – Best Western Capitol Ridge
For those who have attended Legislative Action Day before, please note that we will be at a new location this year – the Best Western Capitol Ridge, located at 161 St Anthony Ave. in St Paul. This is within short walking distance of the Capitol complex.

Parking
The Best Western Capitol Ridge has a parking lot that will be free for CGMC members to use. However, the hotel has informed us that due to another event being held there the same day, there is a possibility that their lot could fill up. If that happens, you are welcome to park in the lot at the League of Minnesota Cities (145 University Ave. W) or at our office at 525 Park St., both of which are within walking distance of both the Best Western and the Capitol complex.

Schedule
The day will begin at 10:30 a.m. with a program featuring a legislative update, overview of the CGMC’s top issues and some lobbying tips. Lunch will be served at approximately noon, during which we will hear from a legislative panel featuring Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) and Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City). After lunch, members will head to the Capitol complex for meetings with legislators. Remember – attendees are responsible for scheduling their own appointments with legislators. Here is the full agenda for the day.

Legislative Reception & Dinner
The legislative reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Mancini’s Char House & Lounge, located at 531 7th St W. in St. Paul. Dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. Mancini’s has a large parking lot, so there will be ample free parking available. If you are staying at the Best Western or the Holiday Inn, you may want to inquire at the front desk about the availability of shuttle service to and from the restaurant if you would prefer not to drive.

DowntimeIf you are looking for somewhere to hang out between meetings, you are welcome to come back to the conference room at the Best Western (the room will be available until 5 p.m.) or you can go to the Flaherty & Hood Office, located at 525 Park St., Suite 470. We also encourage you to take a tour of the newly remodeled Capitol building!

Cancellations
If you signed up for Legislative Action Day but can no longer attend, please let me know ASAP. We had to start a waiting list due to the high number of attendees this year, so if you can’t make it there may be someone else who is interested in taking your place.

Spending the night in St. Paul
There might still be hotel rooms available for those who want to spend the night in St. Paul. A block of rooms is reserved for the CGMC for the nights of Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at both the Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge ($139+tax, call 651-227-8711 to book) and the Holiday Inn St. Paul Downtown ($140+tax, call 651-225-1515 to book).

If you have any additional questions about Legislative Action Day, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com.

Bill to boost LGA funding generates strong bipartisan support

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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Minnesota Rural Equity Project launches

The CGMC has joined forces with Growth & Justice, the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition (MABC) and the GMNP on the Minnesota Rural Equity Project, a multi-year initiative focused on increasing equity within Greater Minnesota communities and between rural and urban Minnesota. A $200,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation is helping to fund this project.

Although we have been working on this project for a few weeks now, it was just formally announced via press release last week. According to Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice, there has already been a lot of interest in the project from the media and other organizations. Last week, Smith and Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski were guests on MPR to discuss the project and concerns facing Greater Minnesota.

We are currently in the process of developing the legislative priorities and agenda for the project, and Smith is also leading the efforts to hire a project director. We will keep you updated on the Minnesota Rural Equity Project as it continues.

Senate revives 2016 bonding bill

Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, introduced legislation this week that revives the bonding bill that failed at the end of the 2016 session. Sen. Senjem’s bill, SF 210, appears to include all of the projects that were part of the final iteration of the 2016 bill. You can view all of the projects here. The Senate Capital Investment Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday.

This is good news for Greater Minnesota cities, as the bill contains funding for several important initiatives including clean water infrastructure, the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) grant program and numerous projects for individual cities. However, as we have seen before, just because a bill is introduced does not guarantee it will pass — or that it will pass in its original form. We will keep you posted on the bonding bill as the session progresses.

Rural voters felt left out and left behind — now is the time for action to strengthen Greater Minnesota

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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CGMC President: Governor’s bonding proposal makes critical investments that cannot wait another year

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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