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Environment

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!

During the last legislative session, the Legislature funded $98 million worth of projects in the bonding bill through a new type of revenue bond to be paid back using the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF). The projects funded using these bonds includes $38.3 million for the Point Source Implementation Grant Program (PSIG), $14.6 million for the Water Infrastructure Fund (WIF) for wastewater projects, and $6 million in matching funds for U.S. EPA funding — all programs that the CGMC supports and are widely used by our member cities.

Last week, a coalition of eight environmental groups served the State of Minnesota with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the funding source for these projects. The environmental groups claim that financing these projects with bonds paid for out of the ENRTF violates the State Constitution. 

We are in the process of investigating this matter on behalf of the CGMC and its members. There is still some uncertainty, but we do know is that this lawsuit endangers the PSIG and WIF funding contained in the 2018 bonding bill and could impact several of our members who were slated to receive this funding. Sale of the bonds to fund these programs could be postponed or even cancelled as a result of the proposed lawsuit, delaying important wastewater and related projects for multiple CGMC members.

You can read more about the lawsuit in this Star Tribune article and this article from MPR.

We will continue to monitor this situation. If you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

Registration is now open for the CGMC Fall Conference! The conference will be held Nov.15-16, 2018 at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center in Alexandria and will feature presentations, discussions and speakers on a number of important topics. The packed agenda includes:

  • Luncheon presentation by Myron Frans, commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget
  • Keynote dinner featuring Tom Hauser, chief political reporter for ABC5 Eyewitness News
  • Legislative panel discussion on child care
  • 2018 election recap and analysis
  • A discussion featuring Greater MN and metro-area elected officials who are working to bridge the rural/urban divide
  • Presentation on annexation and why could be a significant issue in the next legislative session
  • Full membership meeting to discuss and adopt the CGMC’s policy positions and priorities for the upcoming legislative (it’s critical that your city lend its voice to this discussion!)
  • …and more!

CONFERENCE DETAILS
See this CONFERENCE AGENDA & VENUE INFORMATION for full details.

REGISTER TODAY!
Please register online at greatermncities.org/FallConf18. The deadline to register is Nov. 7. 

HOTEL INFORMATION
* Please note that attendees are responsible for their own hotel reservations.*

Arrowwood has a block of rooms reserved for CGMC Fall Conference attendees at a discounted rate of $94 (plus tax). Call Arrowwood at 320-762-1124 by Nov. 1 to book a room under the CGMC’s block.

Note: There are plenty of rooms available at Arrowwood on the night of Nov. 15, but only a limited number of rooms are available on Nov. 14 (the night before the conference). In order to accommodate those who wish to come to Alexandria on Nov. 14 (and may be unable to stay at Arrowwood), we have reserved a small block of rooms for the CGMC at Hampton Inn & Suites in Alexandria. The cost is also $94. Call Hampton Inn at 320-763-3360 by Oct. 29 to make a reservation (rooms are available both Nov. 14 and Nov. 15).

QUESTIONS?
If you have any questions about the conference, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or (651) 259-1917.

The Minnesota Environmental Science and Economic Review Board (MESERB), a joint powers organization to which many CGMC cities belong, is hosting a free workshop on “Wastewater Permitting: Solutions to Address Chloride & Other Salty Parameters” on Sept. 27 in Hutchinson.

Public works directors, wastewater operators and other city officials are invited to this informational meeting and discussion to learn about some of the concerns MESERB has identified in regard to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) permit limits related to chloride and/or other salty parameters. The meeting will also provide information on ways in which cities and water districts can address these limits.

If you would like to attend, please register online at bit.ly/SaltyParameters by Monday, Sept. 24. We encourage you to share this meeting information with other public works and wastewater officials in your city.

Meeting Details:
11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27
Hutchinson Event Center
1005 MN-15
Hutchinson, MN 55350
*Lunch will be provided*

For Immediate Release
May 30, 2018
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
PDF version

Below is statement from CGMC President and Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski regarding the passage of the 2018 bonding bill.

“We are excited that Gov. Dayton has announced that he will sign the 2018 bonding bill into law. This bill includes critical funding for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs, transportation projects, economic development initiatives, colleges and universities and other numerous projects that are important to Greater Minnesota cities.

“We would like to thank Sen. Senjem and Rep. Urdahl for crafting a balanced bonding bill that recognizes infrastructure needs across the state. We are grateful that our legislators and Gov. Dayton were able to put their differences aside and pass a bonding bill that funds vital projects, creates jobs and invests in a better future for our communities.

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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.

In the final hours of the Legislative session, the Legislature passed a bonding bill that includes approximately $123 million in funding for the Public Facilities Authority clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs. Funding for these programs is one of the CGMC’s top legislative priorities for 2018, and many CGMC members are on the list to receive grants and/or low-cost loans through the PFA programs this year.

It is essential that Gov. Dayton signs the bonding bill and does not line-item veto any of the clean water infrastructure funding. Even if your city is not seeking PFA funding this year, it is essential to continue to fund these programs so that funding is available when your city needs it.

Take action now!
Contact Gov. Dayton today and urge him to sign the bonding bill without line-item vetoing any of the funding for clean water infrastructure programs. Tell him that:

  • Funding for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs is vital to Greater Minnesota communities.
  • Cities cannot hold off on making critical repairs and upgrades to their water facilities — this funding is needed now.
  • If funding does not come into fruition this year, cities will either continue to fall behind on infrastructure upgrades/repairs or be forced to drastically raise rates on businesses and residents to cover the costs.

Contact Info
Call Gov. Dayton at 651-201-3400 or 1-800-657-3717 or send him an email using this online form: https://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/

Questions?
If you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth Wefel at 651-259-1924 or eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

The legislative session ended as scheduled late last night, but the final outcome is still not exactly clear. At least two of the three major bills everyone thought the Legislature needed to address this year seem headed for a likely veto. The fate of the tax bill and supplemental budget bill appear very much in doubt as there was little actual negotiation between the Legislature and Gov. Dayton in the final hours of the session and both bills are filled with several provisions the Governor likely finds objectionable. The bonding bill seems the most likely to be signed, but even that is not without controversy.

Once presented with the bills, the Governor has 14 days to determine if he is going to sign them, issue a veto, or leave them unacted upon which would be a “pocket” veto. See below for more details and stay tuned for further developments as Gov. Dayton decides the fate of legislative measures.

Consensus on bonding bill emerges at 11th hour
The bonding bill is always one of the last bills to be finalized during the legislative session, and this year was no different. The all-too-familiar script played out this week when the House successfully passed its version of the bonding bill off the floor on May 14, but the Senate version failed to pass off the floor two days later. This set up a waiting game of when a bonding bill would “emerge” and the guessing as to what would be in it.

True enough, a conference committee was called midday Sunday (just hours before the Legislature’s deadline) and a bill materialized. The bill passed the conference committee with little trouble, but it was not immediately brought to the floor as pressure built. The halls of the Capitol were rampant with rumors that the Senate would not have the votes to pass the bill and last-minute arm twisting, negotiating and maneuvering reached a fever pitch.

The final bill ultimately passed in House by a vote of 113 to 17 and in the Senate by a vote of 42 to 25, with both bodies reaching the supermajority required to pass a bonding bill.

The final bill included funding for CGMC priorities including $5 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program, more than $120 million for clean water infrastructure (see more below), and hundreds of millions of dollars in authorization for transportation projects.

While there is a strong expectation that Gov. Dayton will sign the bill, it is his prerogative to line-item veto projects. There is also a chance that he could veto the whole bill. If he does, it would be largely over a disagreement over some of the mechanisms used to fund projects out of monies associated with the Environmental Trust Fund and the state’s Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (again, see more below).

If your city has a project in the bonding bill, we strongly encourage you to reach out to the Governor’s office and urge him to sign the bill.

Legislature uses new funding mechanism to get money for clean water programsIncreased funding for the Public Facilities Authority’s (PFA) clean water programs is one of the CGMC’s top funding priorities for 2018. The bonding bill passed by the Legislature last night contained approximately $123 million for the PFA to provide grants for wastewater and drinking water projects. However, the bill created a new funding mechanism for Point Source Implementation Grants (PSIG) that could lead to a line-item veto of those funds. 

The bill includes general obligation bond funding of $14 million for state matching funds for federal Environmental Protection Agency grants and $25 million for drinking water grants from the Water Infrastructure Fund (WIF). In addition, it includes $25 million for grants to specific political subdivisions. 

Where it gets little murky is that the Legislature also created a new class of appropriation bonds that will be funded by the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF), which are lottery funds typically used to fund grants recommended by the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). These new appropriation bonds will add $6 million to the state matching funds for the EPA capitalization grants, $14.6 million to WIF for wastewater grants, and $38 million to PSIG.

A number of groups are objecting to the creation of the appropriation bonds, claiming that the funding mechanism defeats the intent behind the constitutional amendment creating the ENTRF. There is a danger that Gov. Dayton could veto this portion of the bill because of the funding mechanism. Please keep your eye out for an “Action Alert” from the CGMC asking members to call on the Governor to support the bonding bill, including the new funding for PFA programs.

If you have any questions regarding this portion of the bonding bill, please contact Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

Transportation funding makes its way into bonding, supplemental budget bills
Corridors of Commerce – Disappointment set in for many Greater Minnesota residents on May 1 when the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) announced that $400 million in Corridors of Commerce funding it was authorized to allocate would go to projects inside the metro area or immediately adjacent to it. Advocates for many important Greater Minnesota transportation projects had been waiting for years to make the type of progress that this funding presented, and were dismayed when the dollars flowed elsewhere.

In response, the CGMC and other Greater Minnesota transportation advocacy groups called on the Legislature and Governor to make it right by allocating additional funds to Corridors of Commerce and directing all of those funds to Greater Minnesota projects. This set in motion a chain of events that resulted in $400 million in Corridors of Commerce funding being approved in the final bonding bill that passed both the House and Senate just minutes before the Legislature adjourned. These dollars are accompanied by language that is designed to direct a significant share of them to projects like Highway 14, Highway 23, and potentially others if funding allows.

All that these projects need now is the Governor’s signature on the bonding bill. If you have a project you care about, please contact the Governor’s office and encourage him to sign the bonding bill.

Local roads and bridges – The Local Road Improvement Program, which provides grants to local governments for road projects and is typically funded through the bonding bill, received around $78 million in total funding. Approximately $28.6 million of those funds are earmarked for specific projects, leaving about $50 million to be awarded as grants. These grants are awarded through an application and selection process that will likely take place later this year. Stay tuned to the CGMC in Brief for updates.

City street funding Legislators continue to express sympathy for small cities which receive no funding for their city streets through the existing constitutional formulas. This year’s House transportation bill would have included permanent funding for the Small Cities Assistance Program, but that funding was reduced to a one-time appropriation of $8.5 million for FY2019 only in the final supplemental budget bill. It is still unknown whether Gov. Dayton will sign the supplemental budget bill, which totals nearly 1,000 pages and touches on numerous issues.

For MSA cities—those with a population greater than 5,000 residents—efforts to increase city street funding largely fell on deaf ears. While the House advanced efforts to put more funding into the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund, which would have trickled down to MSA cities through the formula, no other permanent increase came out of this session.

Constitutional amendment for transportation fails
Throughout this legislative session, talk of a possible constitutional amendment to re-dedicate existing general fund revenues to transportation simmered in the background and nearly boiled over in the final weeks as the House took up and passed the measure. Ultimately, the measure failed to gain enough support in the Senate and was never brought to the floor for a vote. Thank you to all of our members who contacted your legislators and urged them to oppose this amendment.

The CGMC voiced concerns along the way because of the significant detrimental impacts the proposal would have had on our state’s general fund. Once fully phased in, the measure would have re-directed around $279 million a year in existing general fund revenues.

The CGMC supports long-term sustainable funding for transportation, but has long opposed efforts like this one that would jeopardize the integrity of the state’s budget in the process.

Legislature passes tax bill, but Governor threatens veto
The Legislature passed a tax bill on the final day of the session which would align Minnesota’s state tax system with the recently reformed federal tax reform. The bill cuts some business taxes while decreasing the individual income tax rates for the two lowest income tax brackets.

Gov. Dayton asserted that the bill did not do enough for middle-class Minnesotans, and sought $138 million in emergency school funding. The GOP bill provided new money (by forcing the state Department of Natural Resources to repay the use of school land), while making existing education funding more flexible. The Governor opposed the GOP plan.

The Governor has up to two weeks to sign the bill. If he chooses not to sign it, the Legislature can still pass a federal tax conformity bill before the 2019 tax filing season. DFL legislative leaders support vetoing the bill.