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Environment

For Immediate Release
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
PDF version

ST. PAUL—It took years of advocacy by city leaders and a late-night special session to get there, but funding for the Local Government Aid (LGA) program is finally being restored to its 2002 high-water mark.

The tax bill passed by the Legislature in the wee hours of Saturday morning contains a $26 million increase in LGA for 2020, followed by an additional $4 million boost in 2021, bringing total funding for the program to $564 million. The bill is now headed to Gov. Walz’s desk. He is expected to sign it, along with other key budget bills, on Tuesday.

“Our No. 1 priority for this year was to get LGA funding back up to the 2002 level,” said Ron Johnson, who serves as president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) and is a member of the Bemidji City Council. “I’m ecstatic that the Legislature and Governor were able to work together to make that goal a reality. Cities all across the state, and especially in Greater Minnesota, are going to benefit from this important investment.”

This increase has been a long time coming for the nearly 90% of cities in Minnesota who rely on LGA to help pay for city services (such as public safety, street maintenance, parks and libraries) and restrain property taxes. While LGA has received occasional boosts in funding in recent years, cities have still been playing catch-up since drastic cuts to the program in the mid-2000s.

“As city officials, we work hard to keep our city budgets and property tax levies in check, but it is difficult when costs for everything from employee health insurance premiums to construction materials continue to rise,” Johnson said.

“A great thing about LGA is that it gives cities the flexibility to make investments wherever they are most needed,” he added. “With this bump in funding, some cities will be able to hire an additional firefighter or replace a beaten up old snowplow, while others might use the extra LGA to hold down their levies.”

Bradley Peterson, executive director of the CGMC, credited tenacious city leaders, Gov. Walz, House Tax Chair Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) and other state lawmakers for their hard work in getting the LGA increase through the Legislature this year.

“Successes like this have many parents,” Peterson said, noting that LGA is a prime example of an issue where the divided state government was able to reach a compromise for the good of the state.

In addition to LGA, there were other bright spots for Greater Minnesota in the special session.

The Legislature approved funding to help address the child care shortage in Greater Minnesota, including $750,000 to be divided between the six Minnesota Initiative Foundations for child care provider training and business assistance and an additional $750,000 for child care grants, of which at least 60% must go to Greater Minnesota. It also passed $40 million for rural broadband, $18 million for clean water infrastructure grants, $3.5 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant Program and $1.35 million for the Greater Minnesota Job Training Incentive Program.

However, there were some major disappointments in the session as well.

After legislative leaders were unable to agree on adopting any new revenues for transportation, the Legislature passed a pared down transportation bill that included no funding for small-city streets and no additional funding for the Municipal Street Aid or Corridors of Commerce programs.

And perhaps the biggest disappointment of the session was the failure to pass a bonding bill. Johnson said city leaders were counting on a bonding bill to help pay for critical infrastructure needs such as repairs to wastewater treatment plants and other city facilities, road improvements and new or expanded child care facilities.

“In some ways this was a bittersweet legislative session for Greater Minnesota overall,” Johnson said. “We are pleased with the LGA increase, but the lack of a bonding bill or comprehensive transportation bill means many important projects will have to be pushed aside for at least another year.”

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The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 97 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 and follow us on Twitter @greatermncities.

The Legislature is back in session! Governor Walz called a special session for 10 a.m. Friday with the goal of passing the state budget. While the Governor and legislative leaders have expressed preference for a one-day special session, it remains unclear whether it will stretch into the weekend. Throughout the week committee chairs, legislative leaders and nonpartisan legislative staff were hard at work hammering out the final details on the big-ticket budget bills. By Thursday evening most of the conference committees had completed negotiations and released proposed bills that will be voted on by the full House and Senate during the special session.
 
Here is where things currently stand on the CGMC’s top issues:

  • Local Government Aid – The proposed tax bill includes a $26 million increase in LGA for 2020, and an additional $4 million increase the following year, restoring LGA to its 2002 level starting in 2021.This document from MN House Research shows how much LGA each city would receive in 2020 under the bill. In addition, the bill includes a provision that says that no city will receive less LGA in 2020 than they received in 2019.
  • Clean water infrastructure – We are waiting to see if our request for $67 million for clean water grant and loan programs will be included in the bonding bill. However, the proposed Legacy bill includes $18 million for the Point Source Implementation Grant Program, which helps cities pay for water infrastructure projects.
  • City streets – The proposed transportation bill includes no funding for small-city streets (cities under 5,000 in population) and no additional funding for the Municipal Street Aid program for cities over 5,000 in population.
  • Corridors of Commerce – The transportation bill does not include any additional funding for Corridors of Commerce, but it keeps the $25 million/year ongoing appropriation for the program which had been potentially on the chopping block.
  • Child care grants – The proposed omnibus jobs bill includes $750,000 to be distributed between the six Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs) for child care provider training and business development assistance. The bill also includes $750,000 for the Department of Employment and Economic Development child care grant program, of which at least 60 percent must go to Greater Minnesota.
  • Child care facilities grants – This issue remains up in the air as the Legislature attempts to craft a bonding bill.
  • Greater Minnesota Business Development Infrastructure Grant Program (BDPI) – The BDPI program is typically funded mostly through the bonding bill, so we are still waiting to see if it will be included. However, the proposed jobs bill includes $3.574 million ($1.787 million per year for two years) for the program.
  • Job training – The jobs bill includes $1.35 million for the Greater Minnesota Job Training Incentive Program.
  • Broadband – The agriculture & housing finance bill includes $40 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.

Once the special session has concluded, we will provide more in-depth analysis on how Greater Minnesota priorities fared at the Legislature this year.

After blowing past their own self-imposed deadlines, Governor Walz and legislative leaders House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka finally reached an agreement on the state budget Sunday evening. See their signed agreement.

Although Monday was the final day of the regular session — per the State Constitution — a special session will be required for the Legislature to complete its work and pass bills. Governor Walz and legislative leaders have indicated preference for a one-day special session to be held this Thursday, but the exact timing and duration of the special session are still up in the air.

As all three stated during their joint press conference Sunday evening, the agreement reflects a compromise on all sides with no clear “winner.” The two major sticking points in negotiations were the gas tax (Governor and House wanted a 20 cent increase; Senate wanted no increase) and health care provider tax (Governor and House wanted to extend the 2% provider tax set to sunset this year; Senate wanted to eliminate it). Ultimately, the final agreement included no gas tax increase and a 1.8% provider tax with no sunset.

While there is an agreement on the broad budget numbers, the various conference committees were tasked with hammering out the details by 5 p.m. Monday. Reportedly most of them failed to meet that deadline. There is talk that now the bills will be pulled out of conference committee and the final details will be decided between Governor Walz, legislative leaders and the respective committee chairs.

What does it all mean for Local Government Aid (LGA)?

The prospects for an LGA increase — which, if there is one, will be included in the tax bill — are still up in the air.

The tax bill agreement includes only three specific items: a reduction in the second-tier individual income tax rate from 7.2 percent to 6.8 percent, $20 million for the Minneapolis Employees Retirement Fund and a $50 million reduction in the state general levy, which is a statewide property tax that primarily applies to commercial-industrial property. All other issues were left up the conference committee to decide.

The tax bill was given a $0 target, which means that any increase in tax revenues must be matched by an equivalent reduction in revenues or increase in tax aids and credits (e.g. LGA). Federal conformity, Minnesota’s response to the 2017 federal tax overhaul, will play a significant role in shaping what a final tax bill looks like as the plans put forth by Governor Walz, the House DFL and the Senate GOP all generate additional revenue that could be used to pay for other priorities within the tax bill, such as increases to LGA or an expansion of the Working Family Credit.

After the budget agreement was announced Sunday night, we quickly sent out a news release from CGMC President Ron Johnson reiterating that Greater Minnesota communities are counting on the Legislature to pass a $30.5 million LGA increase this year. The CGMC also sent a letter from Ron to all Greater Minnesota legislators arguing that an LGA increase is necessary to provide balance to the tax bill, because 73 percent of the property tax relief provided by cutting the state general levy will go to property located in the metro.

What about a bonding bill?

Governor Walz and the legislative leaders have agreed to a $500 million bonding bill, which includes $440 million in general obligation bonds and $60 million in housing infrastructure bonds. However, the details of what will actually be included in said bonding bill have yet to be determined. From the CGMC perspective, we are hopeful for dollars for clean water infrastructure (PFA $$$), the Greater Minnesota Business Development Infrastructure grant program and child care facilities grants. Several of our member cities also have important projects vying for funding.

It is important to note that unlike other bills, the bonding bill requires a supermajority to pass. That means that it will not pass in either the House or Senate unless some legislators in both chambers vote across party lines. In comments made to reporters following announcement of the budget deal, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt threw some cold water on the idea of any House Republicans voting for a bonding bill. However, it is quite possible that some House Republicans may choose to break from their party in order to get funding for important projects in their districts.

And CGMC’s child care proposals?

At this point there is no news to report on our two child care priorities: funding for the Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs) for provider training & business assistance and bonding money to build or expand child care facilities. The MIFs proposal is still being considered as part of the omnibus jobs bill, and child care facilities grants are part of the ongoing bonding bill discussions.

Any hope for transportation?

The gas tax was one of Governor Walz’s highest profile proposals this session. He talked about the need for new transportation revenues on the campaign trail and reiterated that commitment the day after his election as governor. This session’s House transportation bill was particularly promising for CGMC priorities. It included new funding for Corridors of Commerce, significant new funding for MSA cities, and a permanent, dedicated funding stream for small cities. When the final budget deal was reached, however, all of those priorities ended up on the cutting room floor.

For cities with populations greater than 5,000, the status quo will hold. With no additional funding coming into the transportation formula, larger cities will not see increases through the municipal state aid formula.

For small cities, the jury is still out, but the path forward is difficult. Without significant new funding for transportation and a relatively small general fund target for transportation, it is difficult to see how the House and Senate come up with a compromise plan that isn’t an abject failure for small-city street funding.

Further, without new funding in the transportation system, significant investments in Corridors of Commerce may not be possible this session. Since it appears that a comprehensive transportation package is now off the table for this year, the CGMC will shift in its focus in the upcoming special session to maintaining the $25 million/year base appropriation for Corridors of Commerce, which the Senate has proposed eliminating. While the Corridors of Commerce program is not perfect and could use some tweaks in the way it scores projects for funding consideration, it remains one of the few mechanisms for funding critical highway projects in Greater Minnesota.

How will the special session play out?

The legislative leaders have hinted at holding a one-day special session on Thursday. Accomplishing that in one day would require suspending the normal procedural rules in each chamber which require action on a bill take place over multiple days. A vote to suspend the rules requires a three-fifths majority, which would require six GOP votes in the House. The House GOP caucus has threatened to vote against such a motion. Failure to suspend the rules means a special session could take several days to finish.

It’s important to note that while there is a global agreement between the Governor, Speaker Hortman and Sen. Gazelka, there are still 199 other legislators to consider — some of whom may not be happy with the terms that were agreed upon or the “cone of silence” that surrounded the negotiations. So while there are just hours until today’s midnight deadline for the regular legislative session, the Legislature’s work remains far from over.

As the special session plays out, CGMC staff will be busy following all the action at the Capitol and continuing to advocate for Greater Minnesota priorities.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please contact CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-225-8840.

With just less than three weeks left in the legislative session, it is vital that we work together to keep legislators focused on Greater Minnesota priorities such as Local Government Aid (LGA), child care, clean water infrastructure and transportation. To help advocate for these and other issues, we encourage all Greater Minnesota city leaders to join us for an End-of-Session Lobby Day & Ice Cream Social on Wednesday, May 8. 

The event is FREE to attend, but please RSVP by sending an email to Meghan at RSVP@flaherty-hood.com (include your name, city and position/title).

We hope to get as many city officials to attend as possible! Share this Lobby Day Flyer and encourage other city officials and staff to join us.

Parking Info – Attendees may park for free in the lot located at 525 Park Street in St. Paul, just a block from the Capitol. However, a parking permit is required. Please print this parking permit in color, write in the event date (May 8) and place it on your dashboard.

If you have any questions, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com.

With the Legislature currently on hiatus for the Easter/Passover break, CGMC staff members hit the road this week to meet with editors and reporters in Greater Minnesota to provide an update on our legislative priorities and discuss our hopes heading into the final month of the legislative session. Stops included the newspapers in Hutchinson, Willmar, St. Cloud, Fargo/Moorhead, Fergus Falls and Alexandria. (Here’s an article about our visit to the Fergus Falls Daily Journal.)

At the meetings, we shared this mid-session progress chart, which shows where the Governor, House and Senate each stand on the CGMC’s top priorities including Local Government Aid (LGA), child care, transportation and clean water infrastructure. As this end-of-session handout indicates, we also reiterated that we are calling on the Governor and legislative leaders to work together over the next few weeks to do more than simply pass a “lights on” state budget. We emphasized that in order the 2019 legislative session to be considered a success for Greater Minnesota, the Legislature and Governor must:

  • Pass a tax bill that includes a $30.5 million increase in LGA.
  • Pass a bonding bill that includes $67 million for Public Facilities Authority clean water grant and loan programs, as well as funding for child care facilities, the BDPI program and other infrastructure investments.
  • Pass a comprehensive transportation bill that raises new revenues and provides funding for city streets and the Corridors of Commerce program.

We would like to extend a special thank-you to the local city officials who joined us for some of the media visits: Willmar City Councilor Audrey Nelsen, St. Joseph Mayor Rick Schultz, Moorhead City Manager Chris Volkers and Alexandria City Administrator Marty Schultz.

Although this year’s legislative session is five months long, it’s no secret that the final two weeks of session are especially critical. This is when negotiations really heat up and final decisions are made. As we countdown to the Legislature’s May 20 deadline, it is vital that that you continue to speak up about important CGMC issues such as Local Government Aid, wastewater infrastructure, child care and transportation. To help keep legislators’ attention focused on our top priorities, we invite all Greater Minnesota city leaders to join us for an End-of-Session Lobby Day & Ice Cream Social on Wednesday, May 8. 

The tentative schedule for the day is as follows:

  • 10:30 a.m. – Legislative update and messaging (Room 500 North in the State Office Building, located across the street from the State Capitol)
  • Lunch on your own
  • 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 (L’etoile du Nord Vault Room in the Basement of the State Capitol)

Lobby Day is FREE to attend, but we ask that you register by sending an email to Meghan at RSVP@flaherty-hood.com (please include your name, city and position/title).

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.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
PDF version

Below is a statement from CGMC President and Bemidji City Council Member Ron Johnson on the passage of H.F. 80. The bill includes a provision to convert the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund bonds that were part of the 2018 bonding bill — but have since been tied up in litigation — to general obligation bonds, thus freeing up $59 million in state funding for municipal water infrastructure projects.

“We are elated that Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate worked together to find a meaningful solution that will allow essential clean water infrastructure projects to move forward in Greater Minnesota. As a result of this legislation, numerous cities across the state will be able to proceed with critical water, wastewater and sewer projects that are necessary to help protect Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. We’re hopeful that the passage of this bipartisan bill bodes well for continued efforts by lawmakers to compromise on other important issues this legislative session.”

“While we are pleased that this bill finally opens up the funding that was approved last year, it does not alleviate the massive need for more funding going forward. With the state facing a $5 billion need over the next 20 years for wastewater infrastructure improvements alone, the Legislature cannot shove this issue aside. We urge the Legislature to pass a bonding bill this year that includes the Governor’s request for $67 million for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs.”

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The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 97 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 and follow us on Twitter @greatermncities.

 

Although many people understandably canceled their registrations due to the subzero temperatures and icy road conditions, more than 50 city leaders from across the state still made the trek to St. Paul for Legislative Action Day on Wednesday. Thank you to everyone who helped make our annual “day at the Capitol” a success!
 
The day kicked off with a welcome from CGMC President and Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson and a legislative update from CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson, followed by presentations on our top issues (LGA, water infrastructure, child care, the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant Program and transportation) by CGMC staff.
 
After the crowd enjoyed lunch and listened to Gov. Walz’s speech, they spent the rest of the afternoon meeting with legislators. Although much of the state was shut down due to the weather, offices at the State Capitol remained open. The cancellation of most of the legislative committee hearings that day ended up working out in our favor as CGMC members were able to get more time than usual to talk to their legislators about important issues. A copy of the lobbying packet that was given to CGMC members and shared with legislators can be found here.
 
As is CGMC tradition, the day was capped off with a legislative reception and dinner at Mancini’s, where a bipartisan mix of more than 70 legislators representing both rural and urban districts mingled with CGMC members over a meal of steak or walleye.
 
You can see more photos from Legislative Action Day here.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
PDF version

CGMC calls on legislators to pass $128M in funding for critical clean water infrastructure projects

ST. PAUL—As communities across the state grapple with aging water treatment facilities and rising construction costs, Greater Minnesota city leaders are on calling on the Legislature to pass a bonding bill this year that includes $128 million for clean water infrastructure.

“Cities are the front line of protecting our lakes and rivers from pollution and making sure residents have clean water,” said Ron Johnson, a member of the Bemidji City Council and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “We are proud to play a role preserving Minnesota’s clean water legacy, but cities simply don’t have the resources to make the necessary improvements to their water facilities without assistance from the state.”

A bipartisan bill introduced today at the Minnesota Legislature aims to keep up with the growing demand for state funding to help cities offset the costs to upgrade and rebuild water treatment plants and other clean water infrastructure. SF 587/HF 411, authored by Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) and Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin), provides $128 million in general appropriation bonds to the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority (PFA) for water infrastructure grant and loan programs available to cities.

“We’re thankful that Sen. Dahms and Rep. Poppe are stepping up to the plate to address the dire need for more funding for water infrastructure,” Johnson said. “Cities across the state—and especially in Greater Minnesota—will benefit from this legislation.”

The funding allocated under SF 587/HF 411 is especially critical this year as several cities have been forced to put important projects on hold after funding approved by the Legislature in 2018 hit a major snag. The bonding bill signed into law last spring included $59 million for the PFA programs; however, a group of nine environmental groups initiated a lawsuit against the state challenging the funding mechanism used in the bill. As a result of the lawsuit, money that many cities were anticipating is now in limbo.

The $128 million funded under SF 587/HF 411 is the amount needed to keep up with the growing demand for PFA grants and loans and cover the amount that has been indefinitely held up due to the lawsuit.

“The longer we have to wait for funding, the more expensive our project becomes,” said Little Falls Mayor Greg Zylka, whose city is among those affected by the funding delay.

Zylka said Little Falls was slated to receive a $7 million grant to upgrade its treatment plant to reduce pollutants in wastewater that flows into the Mississippi River. Without the state grant, the entire $22 million project cost would fall on city residents and businesses.

Little Falls is not alone. Austin, Marshall and Mountain Lake are also near the top of the project priority list and were hoping to receive funding through the 2018 bonding bill. In total, more than 300 cities in Minnesota currently have water infrastructure projects in the works. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, more than $5 billion is needed over the next 20 years for water and wastewater infrastructure.

“Cities need help now – and that need is only going to grow as time goes on,” Zylka said. “The Legislature must pass funding this year with the full $128 million request.”

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The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 97 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 and follow us on Twitter @greatermncities.

Thank you to everyone who attended the CGMC Fall Conference last week at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center. More than 100 city leaders representing 50 cities attended the conference — setting an attendance record for the second straight year!

The conference kicked off Thursday afternoon with a presentation by Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, who shared insights into his past eight years as a member of Gov. Dayton’s administration and the ups and downs our state budget faced during that time. He also provided information on the state’s current economic outlook and what could be in store for the budget in the near future. You can read Frans’ presentation here.
 
Following Frans’ presentation, we delved into a panel discussion on the rural/urban divide and the role city leaders can play in helping to bridge the gaps between the various and diverse communities in Minnesota. Panelists included Ben Schierer, mayor of Fergus Falls; Suzanne Hilgert, mayor of Olivia; Peter Lindstrom, mayor of Falcon Heights, and Brad Tabke, former mayor of Shakopee and a newly elected state representative. The panelists shared examples of ways they have learned from leaders in other parts of the state and discussed the issues in which they wish there was better understanding between rural and urban communities. Conference attendees also participated in small group discussions where they brainstormed ideas on steps they can take within their cities to help bridge the rural/urban divide.
 
With the conference being held just a little over a week after the midterm elections, it would not have been complete with a good ‘ole CGMC election recap. CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson provided in-depth analysis of the 2018 election results — particularly the race for governor and the Minnesota House — and what they could mean for CGMC priorities and other issues in the upcoming legislative session. You can read Bradley’s presentation here.  
 
After the election analysis, we welcomed several legislators for a panel discussion on one of the most critical issues currently impacting Greater Minnesota: the child care shortage. Nicole Griensewic Mickelson, executive director of Region Nine Development Commission and president of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, moderated the discussion featuring Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks), Sen. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) and Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne). You can watch video of the discussion here.
 
Annexation is another important topic explored at the conference. CGMC lobbyist Elizabeth Wefel informed attendees about some looming concerns, particularly the possibility that the CGMC and cities may need to play defense on legislation being proposed by township groups that could thwart cities’ ability to pursue annexations. You can read Elizabeth’s Power Point presentation here.
 
In the evening, attendees enjoyed a cocktail reception and dinner followed by an excellent presentation by Emmy-award winning reporter Tom Hauser of ABC 5 Eyewitness News. A veteran political reporter, Hauser shared his take on the national and state election results and some of the issues that could be on the horizon in the future.
 
Friday morning kicked off with a presentation/discussion led by Brandon Fitzsimmons, a labor and employment attorney with Flaherty & Hood, on how to effectively evaluate the performance of city administrators and managers. Waite Park City Administrator Shaunna Johnson and Mayor Rick Miller shared their stories on this issue and provided advice on how to help performance evaluations run smoothly. You can read Brandon’s Power Point presentation here.

In addition to speakers and presentations, the conference also included a membership meeting Friday morning during which members discussed and adopted the CGMC’s 2019 legislative policy positions. To review the adopted positions, click on the following subject areas:

Members also discussed the CGMC’s legislative priorities for 2019 and learned about our initial messaging and strategy plans for the upcoming legislative session.

Thanks again to everyone who attended our 2018 Fall Conference. We look forward to seeing you again at our next CGMC event – Legislative Action Day on Jan. 30 in St. Paul. We will send out registration information for Legislative Action Day soon!