Governor’s bonding plan recognizes cities’ struggle to pay for much-needed water infrastructure upgrades

Below is statement from CGMC President and Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski regarding Gov. Dayton’s $1.5 billion public works proposal, which was unveiled this morning. A PDF version of this statement is available here.

“It is promising to see that Governor Dayton’s bonding proposal includes $167 million for clean water infrastructure programs. Clean water is a vital part of a healthy community, yet wastewater and drinking water facilities throughout the state are aging and in dire need of expensive repairs and upgrades. Cities are facing astronomical costs and many simply cannot afford to make these needed infrastructure improvements without assistance from the state. We are pleased to see that Gov. Dayton’s bonding plan recognizes this need.

Clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs have consistently received bipartisan support at the Legislature, and we are hopeful that will continue in 2018. As we move into the legislative session, we hope the Governor and Legislature will be able to put their other squabbles aside and pass a bonding bill that promotes economic development, strong infrastructure and thriving communities.”

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CGMC Board meets with gubernatorial candidates (Round 3)

The CGMC Board of Directors met with Republican gubernatorial candidates Rep. Matt Dean, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson on Wednesday, the third in a series of meetings with candidates running for governor. The board previously met with candidates Chris Coleman, Tina Liebling and Erin Murphy in November and with Keith Downey, Rebecca Otto and Paul Thissen in December. Additional candidate meetings may be added in the future.

Rep. Matt Dean, a Dellwood resident who has served in the Minnesota House since 2004, said he decided to run for governor because he is deeply concerned about the future of our state. When crafting a budget, he said he would look for ways to cut spending by analyzing state agencies and programs, but would also potentially increase spending in areas such as mental health. On LGA, he acknowledged that many Greater Minnesota communities, particularly those in “sparse areas,” need LGA to survive, but he would not commit to increasing funding. He expressed support for changing the LGA formula, claiming that Minneapolis and St. Paul receive too much. When asked about economic development, Rep. Dean said that health care and workforce needs are the biggest concerns he hears when traveling the state. He said heavy regulations and high taxes cause Minnesota to lose businesses, and that he would put more emphasis on economic development across state agencies if elected.

Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, who is currently in her second term, said she decided to jump into the governor’s race based on her father’s adage to “quit whining and be part of the solution.” She expressed concern about unfunded mandates, particularly in regard to environmental regulations, as well as frustration that cities have not had a louder voice in the regulatory process. As governor, she said she would strive to lower taxes, reduce overly burdensome regulations and look for budget savings by reducing inefficiencies at state agencies. She noted that Woodbury does not receive LGA, but she is involved in many state and regional organizations, “none of which oppose LGA.” Stephens said she would like to review the LGA formula, as well as other state policies, to see if it needs to be revised. On economic development, she talked about the state’s worker shortage and touted partnerships between businesses and high schools and colleges. She also noted the importance of investing in infrastructure and transportation, but said the state needs to be more prudent with its bonding dollars.

Commissioner Jeff Johnson, a former state representative from Plymouth who is currently in his third term as county commissioner, said his main reason for running for governor is because he wants to give people more control over their own money, businesses and decisions. If elected, he would curb spending and craft a much smaller state budget. However, his funding priorities would be transportation (roads and bridges), K-12 education and a safety net focused on the most vulnerable. Johnson said he supports LGA on the premise that it helps cities who aren’t property-rich afford basic services, but he dislikes the current LGA formula — particularly the amount that Minneapolis and St. Paul receive — and would change it “dramatically.” He expressed frustration with the “arrogance” of state agencies and said they need to involve more people in the decision-making process. When it comes to economic development, he said Minnesota needs to reduce taxes and regulations and speed up the permitting process. He also highlighted workforce issues where the state could play a role, such as housing, child care and technical training.

You can learn more about the candidates and their priorities at their campaign websites:

Register for CGMC Legislative Action Day 2018!

Registration is now open for the CGMC’s Legislative Action Day 2018! It will be held Wednesday, March 14 at the conference center at the Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge (formerly the Kelly Inn) in St. Paul, located one block from the State Office Building. Due to the overwhelming interest last year, we have reserved a larger space for this year’s event.

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 attend, please go to greatermncities.org/LAD2018 to fill out the online registration form. The cost is $70 per person, and attendees may pay online or be invoiced later. Please register by Feb. 28.

The day will kick off with a brief legislative update in the morning followed by lunch featuring yet-to-be-determined speakers (we have extended invitations to all four legislative leaders — Senate Majority Paul Gazelka, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman). 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. The full agenda and venue information can be found on this Legislative Action Day flyer.

For those who want to spend the night in St. Paul, a block of rooms is reserved for the CGMC for the nights of March 13-14 at the Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge ($139+tax, call 651-227-8711 to book). Members are encouraged to book their rooms early as the block closes Feb. 13.

If you have any questions about Legislative Action Day, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917.

We hope to see you there!

CGMC membership fees due Feb. 1

Thank you to all of the cities who have renewed their CGMC membership for 2018! For those who have not yet paid your membership assessment, please note that payment is due by Feb. 1. Your city should be have received an invoice in the mail, but if you did not receive it or would like another copy, please contact Dana Johnston at dcjohnston@flaherty-hood.com or 651-225-8840.

CGMC voices concerns about proposed changes to Corridors of Commerce selection process

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the CGMC’s Action Alert last week by contacting the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) with your comments about the proposed changes to the Corridors of Commerce project selection scoring process. It is your willingness to speak up and get involved that makes the CGMC an effective advocate for Greater Minnesota.
 
The CGMC submitted its comment letter to MnDOT on Dec. 20. The CGMC is particularly concerned about two aspects of the draft scoring system that could disadvantage some Greater Minnesota projects.
 
First, while MnDOT observed a 50-50 funding split between Greater Minnesota in the metro in 2013 and 2015, it is now considering moving away from the even funding split in response to pressure from metro-area interests. With the majority of the state’s lane miles located in Greater Minnesota and numerous projects awaiting funding, we strongly oppose any efforts that would lessen the amount of funding that goes to Greater Minnesota projects.  
 
The CGMC’s second concern is a rubric under one of MnDOT’s scoring criteria that would give additional points to corridors that connect to the metro over those that connect Greater Minnesota cities to one another. The CGMC does not agree that highway projects should have a lower chance of being funded solely because they do not connect to the Twin Cities. There are numerous ways to distinguish between important highway projects, and MnDOT has included many of them in its draft scoring system. We believe these are sufficient without geography having to enter into the equation.
 
MnDOT’s public input period ended Wednesday. Here is the agency’s tentative timeline for the rest of the Corridors of Commerce process:

  • Dec. 21 to Dec. 31, 2017 – Review and approve final process
  • Jan. 15 to Feb. 2, 2018 – Public recommendation period
  • February to March 2018 – Project evaluation and scoring
  • End of March 2018 – Project award announcement and release of final scores for all projects

We will continue to update CGMC members on important dates and actions you can take to help vital Greater Minnesota transportation corridors compete for funding. If you have any questions, please contact CGMC transportation lobbyist Shane Zahrt at sazahrt@flaherty-hood.com.
 

ACTION ALERT – Don’t let MnDOT divert money away from Greater Minnesota highways!

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is currently designing the project selection process it will use to direct the spending of $400 million in bonding and cash that the 2017 Legislature appropriated to the Corridors of Commerce program.

Since it was created in 2013, Corridors of Commerce funding has been split 50-50 between Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area, and has funded vital expansion and safety projects in both regions. However, because of pressure from the metro area, MnDOT is considering lowering Greater Minnesota’s share of the funding. MnDOT is also proposing a scoring system that would favor corridors that lead through the metro over those that connect Greater Minnesota cities to one another.

MnDOT is taking public comment on the proposed process through this Wednesday, December 20th. CGMC will be submitting a formal comment letter, but it is important that individual city leaders weigh in as well.

Take action now!

As a Greater Minnesota city leader, it is important that you contact MnDOT as soon as possible and urge them to:

  • Maintain the 50-50 split between Greater Minnesota and the metro area for Corridors of Commerce funding, as has been used in previous funding cycles and was understood throughout the 2017 legislative process would remain intact.
  • Reject a scoring system that allows more points for corridors that run through the metro area over those that connect Greater Minnesota cities.
  • Recognize that roads that connect Greater Minnesota communities to one another are just as important as those that connect to the Twin Cities.

More information on MnDOT’s draft scoring process can be found here: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/corridorsofcommerce/

Contact info

Comments MUST be submitted to Patrick Weidemann of MnDOT at pat.weidemann@state.mn.us by Wednesday, December 20.

Questions?

If you have any questions about Corridors of Commerce or MnDOT’s draft scoring process, please contact CGMC transportation lobbyist Shane Zahrt at SAZahrt@flaherty-hood.com or (651) 295-1123.

Click here for a PDF version of this Action Alert.

CGMC board meets with gubernatorial candidates (Round 2)

The CGMC Board of Directors met with gubernatorial candidates Keith Downey, Rebecca Otto and Paul Thissen on Wednesday, the second in a series of meetings with candidates running for governor. As we mentioned in last week’s CGMC in Brief, three candidates met with the board before the CGMC Fall Conference in November (read about those meetings here) and others are slated to meet with the board in January. Additional meeting dates may be added in the future if need be.

Keith Downey, the former chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and a former state representative who currently lives in Minnetonka, said his campaign theme is “Make Minnesota Work for Everyone.” His main priorities are reinvigorating the business climate by reducing taxes and regulations, fixing the achievement gap in the urban core and health care. As governor, Downey said he would reduce state spending by 15 percent and eliminate the commercial/industrial property tax, corporate tax and estate tax. Stating that “LGA is not something I would have dreamed up,” Downey said LGA funding should be only for “core services,” not “quality of life” items like community centers, swimming pools or libraries, and he believes the first-class cities are not as dependent on LGA as other communities. He discussed a proposal from when he was a legislator which would take 50 percent of LGA and convert it to a grant and loan program for cities. Some of the grants would be awarded based on specific projects and some would be based on innovative collaborations between local governments.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto, a DFLer from Marine on St. Croix who has served in her current position for three terms, says “Renew Minnesota” is her campaign theme. Her top priorities are health care, attracting jobs and manufacturers through the “clean energy economy,” and providing two years of paid tuition to any Minnesota high school graduate (provided they maintain certain stipulations). She emphasized her goal to move the state to a single-payer system, claiming it would attract businesses and reduce health care costs, particularly for local governments. She said she supports LGA and that small communities in particular need it due to the economies of scale. On the issue of environmental regulations, Otto stressed the importance of good science and the need to work with local governments and other stakeholders. She also expressed concern that the state needs to do more to address aging infrastructure, particularly in smaller cities that don’t have the population necessary to spread out costs.

State Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) has served in the House since 2002, including a stint as Speaker of House in 2013-14. He emphasized his commitment to “getting stuff done” and said he wants all Minnesotans to prosper and feel a sense of belonging, no matter where they live. He cited a number of priorities, including economic security, education, health care, infrastructure, child care and housing. He expressed concern about the state budget deficit, noting his accomplishments in balancing the budget as Speaker. He further stated his biggest regret from his time as Speaker is not passing a comprehensive transportation bill including a gas tax increase. Thissen said he is a strong supporter of LGA, calling it a “critical component of what keeps Minnesota great.” On environmental regulations, he said it is important that city leaders have a “seat at the table” and that he wants to fashion the regulatory process so that resources are used wisely to reach clean water goals.

You can learn more about the candidates and their priorities at their campaign websites:

November budget forecast shows deficit ‒ and uncertainty

The November budget forecast released this week by Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) shows a small deficit in the current biennium ($188 million for FY 2018-19) and a larger deficit for the following biennium ($586 million for FY 2020-21). In addition, MMB does not include the cost of inflation in its long-term forecasts; it estimates the cost of inflation for FY 2020-21 to be approximately $1.3 billion.

There are significant unknowns at the federal level, including whether tax reform or funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will pass, and whether the economy continues its historic expansion. The state’s previous February forecast included assumptions regarding federal legislation that were overly positive ‒ and was higher than the average of 50 other forecasts. This newest November forecast changed those assumptions.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) indicated that changes in this November forecast were made for political purposes. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) called the report “obsolete on arrival” due to the pending actions at the federal level. Gov. Dayton urged caution and noted that he would not use any budget reserves for what, in his opinion, could be solved with sound budgeting this session.

Draft Impaired Waters List open for comment

The MPCA has opened the Draft Impaired Waters list for comment. Every two years, the MPCA updates this list which identifies the waters that do not meet Minnesota’s water quality standards. The list guides where the MPCA will be developing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans. If your wastewater facility discharges upstream of an impaired water, this increases the likelihood that a limit that addresses the impairment could be placed in your permit.

You can find the draft list and instructions on how to comment here. We encourage all cities to work with your wastewater operators and engineers to review the list and determine whether you are discharging into an impaired water. If you believe the impairment listing is erroneous, you may want to work with your engineer or operator to submit comments. Because these determinations are unique to each water body, the CGMC will not be submitting comments on this list.

If you have any questions on this issue, please contact Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

GOP gubernatorial candidates bash LGA at forum

At a Republican gubernatorial candidate forum held in Marshall on Monday, the four participating GOP candidates were asked whether, if elected Governor, they would propose cuts to the Local Government Aid (LGA) program. To the CGMC’s dismay, each of the candidates on the panel either said they would cut funding for LGA or perpetuated misconceptions about the program. You can see the video of the LGA question here. (We also encourage you to watch the full 90-minute forum.)

In response to the question on LGA, Hennepin County Commissioner and 2014 GOP candidate for governor Jeff Johnson indicated that he would change the formula, and would likely also support cuts. Keith Downey, who formerly served in the Legislature and as chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, pointed to an LGA reform he had proposed as a legislator, which would cut the program’s overall budget and allocate portions of the funding as grants. Current State Senator Dave Osmek said the formula is “screwed up” and “corrupt” in favor of Minnesota’s largest cities. Candidate Phil Parrish, a resident of Kenyon, said LGA is being exploited by specific communities at the expense of others.

As city leaders know best, LGA is a vital tool for holding down local property tax levies and building strong communities. The CGMC was involved in the 2013 reform of the LGA formula, and believes it reflects a fair compromise for all cities.

LGA has received broad, bipartisan support throughout the program’s history. Unfortunately, however, some lawmakers and candidates continue to perpetuate misconceptions. The CGMC created a handout to dispel some of these common myths about LGA, which we shared with all of the GOP candidates running for governor after some of them made inaccurate comments about the program at a candidate forum last summer.

The CGMC will continue to monitor and respond to statements and proposals regarding LGA and other important issues throughout the 2018 election cycle.