Category archives
LGA

There are only five weeks left in the 2018 legislative session and the Minnesota Senate has yet to hold a hearing on SF 3082, the CGMC-supported bill to increase LGA funding by $30.5 million to help cities keep up with rising costs and hold down property taxes. The House companion bill, HF 3493, received a committee hearing last week, but so far the Senate has ignored LGA by not hearing any bills that would increase it. It’s time to tell the Senate to step up!

Take action now!

Contact your senator, Senate Tax Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka as soon as possible and urge them to hold a hearing on SF 3082 and increase LGA funding this session.

Tell them that:

  • Any meaningful tax bill must include an increase in LGA—the most effective tool the state has for building strong communities in Greater Minnesota.
  • You and your community are counting on the Legislature to pass a $30.5 million LGA increase this session to finally restore the program to its 2002 level.
  • Last year’s $15 million LGA increase was helpful in allowing many cities to hold down property tax levies and address long-delayed investments. However, the cost to cities to provide services continues to rise due to inflation and other factors.
  • Tell your story of the impact LGA has on your community! Share examples of how your city uses its LGA and how your city might utilize an increase.

Contact info

Questions?

If you have any questions about LGA or the legislative session, please contact Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1911.

As has become recent tradition for the CGMC, we will be holding an end-of-session lobby day and ice cream social to make a final push for our top priorities in the waning days of the legislative session. The event, which will be held in St. Paul on Wednesday, May 9, will give Greater Minnesota city officials and other community leaders a chance to meet with legislators and demand that they pass bills that address CGMC priorities such as LGA, wastewater infrastructure and child care.

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)
  • 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 at greatermncities.org/IceCream2018 by Monday, May 7 so that we can coordinate meetings. Free parking is available at the Flaherty & Hood office located at 525 Park St. in St. Paul, just one block from the State Capitol, as long as you print off this parking pass (which is good only for May 9) and put it on your dashboard.

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.

Members of the House of Representatives are advancing a bill that would penalize cities that receive LGA and also collect a Local Option Sales Tax. HF 3830, chief authored by Rep. Cal Bahr (R-East Bethel), would reduce a city’s LGA by the amount of funds that it collects under a Local Option Sales Tax approved by the city’s voters and authorized by the Legislature.

This bill will be heard on Wednesday, April 11 by the House Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division, chaired by Rep. Steve Drazkowski. We need your voice to push back against this dangerous bill!

Take action today!

It is critical that CGMC city leaders call or e-mail bill author Rep. Cal Bahr and Committee Chair Rep. Steve Drazkowski, as well as Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt and your own House member. Tell them to oppose HF 3830.

Let them know that:

  • This bill harms rural Minnesota, where the majority of cities that collect local sales taxes are located.
  • Local Option Sales Taxes are approved by voters and can only be spent on specific purposes that are authorized by the Legislature. They do not go to fund a city’s general operations or to provide services like fire, police or parks like LGA does.
  • This bill’s LGA cuts would directly result in property tax increases or cuts to city services.
  • The bill disproportionately punishes cities that need LGA the most. Wealthy cities that receive little or no LGA could continue to collect a Local Option Sales Tax without the same consequences.

Contact Information

For more legislators’ contact information, visit:


Need more information?

For more information, please contact CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson atBMPeterson@flaherty-hood.com or CGMC lobbyist Shane Zahrt at SAZahrt@flaherty-hood.com.

Two recently introduced bills seek to reduce – or eliminate – Local Government Aid (LGA) based on sales tax revenue. The first, HF 3830 (authored by Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel) reduces a city’s LGA over time based on their local sales tax. As cities know, local option sales taxes are not a substitute for LGA since they are dedicated to specific capital projects, while LGA is used for general operations, investments and restraining property taxes.

The second LGA bill, HF3892/SF 3518 (authored by Rep. Jerry Hertaus, R-Greenfield and Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch), would eliminate the LGA and fiscal disparity program and re-direct sales taxes to cities and school districts. Specifically, the revenue raised by a sales tax of 1 percent on all sales goes to a new school/municipal trust account. Every city qualifies for aid, but a city’s aid would be determined by a county’s share (the amount needed to make payments multiplied by how much sales tax revenue the county contributes) multiplied by the city’s population. The higher the population and sales tax revenue, the more aid a city would receive – more than likely benefiting populous metro cities.

The CGMC will continue to monitor these bills and others to ensure that Greater Minnesota cities can rely upon a strong LGA program into the future. If you have any questions about LGA issues, please contact Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com.

For Immediate Release
March 8, 2018
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
PDF version

Bill to increase city aid finds strong bipartisan support at Legislature
Mayor: LGA is the ‘unsung hero of Greater Minnesota communities’

ST. PAUL—As discussions about the projected state budget surplus and potential changes to the tax code heat up the Capitol, city leaders from Greater Minnesota are calling on lawmakers to pass legislation introduced today that would increase funding for critical state aid to cities.

The bill, SF 3082/HF 3493, boosts funding for the state’s Local Government Aid (LGA) program by $30.5 million. Chief authored by Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) and Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), two long-time advocates for LGA, the legislation has bipartisan support in both houses and a long list of Republican and Democrat co-authors who represent a wide mix of rural, suburban and urban cities.

“Sen. Weber and Rep. Anderson are veteran legislators and great champions for Greater Minnesota. We are grateful they are taking the lead on this issue and continuing to fight on behalf of the nearly 90 percent of Minnesota cities who receive LGA,” said Dave Smiglewski, mayor of Granite Falls and president the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC).

Securing additional LGA funding is a top legislative priority for the CGMC this session. While small increases in recent years have begun to make up for drastic cuts made to LGA in the mid-2000s, the program still receives less funding than it did in 2002. At the same time, inflation and hefty increases in costs such as employee health insurance premiums and construction materials have caused cities to struggle to provide the services and amenities residents depend on while keeping property taxes in check.

“The average Minnesotan might not know anything about LGA, but it is absolutely vital to keeping our cities strong and providing a good quality of life for our residents,” Smiglewski said. “Every time you drive down a plowed street, call emergency services or visit a city park, there is a good chance you are experiencing the benefits of LGA. It is the unsung hero of Greater Minnesota communities.”

Lawmakers have been vocal about the need to pass a tax bill in order to deal with issues that have sprung up due to the recent federal tax overhaul. Since changes to LGA funding are typically addressed in the tax bill, Smiglewski said this focus on the state’s tax situation provides an opportunity to pass an LGA increase this session.

“Our communities have waited long enough. Now that the economy is strong and Minnesota is on the right track, it is time to restore LGA funding,” Smiglewski said. “As our legislators debate tax changes and plans for the budget surplus, we are counting on them to make sure LGA is a major part of the conversation.”

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The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 96 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.

 

For immediate release
Feb. 15, 2018
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
PDF version

Legislature needs to build on progress for Greater Minnesota
LGA, infrastructure, child care among issues that demand attention this session

ST. PAUL—As the Minnesota Legislature prepares to head into session next week, Greater Minnesota city leaders are urging lawmakers to put aside the growing partisan divide and focus on the “bread and butter” issues that keep communities across the state healthy.

“The Legislature has a strong opportunity to address key issues like Local Government Aid funding, infrastructure repairs and the child care shortage. The greatest danger this session is that legislators will squander this moment of economic strength in our state,” said Bradley Peterson, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC), during a pre-session conference call with statewide media this morning.

“Legislators have a prime opportunity to build on progress made over the last couple of sessions. They can’t let partisanship or the distraction of the upcoming elections stand in the way of getting work done,” he said.

David Smiglewski, mayor of Granite Falls and president of the CGMC, added, “As city leaders and as Minnesotans, we have to demand that they stay focused, buckle down and do their jobs.”

Tax bill talks must include LGA

Leading into the session, legislators have been vocal about the need for tax bill to address issues that have sprung up due to the recent federal tax overhaul. Peterson said this focus on taxes creates an opportunity for the Legislature to address Greater Minnesota cities’ needs by passing an increase in Local Government Aid (LGA). The CGMC is seeking a permanent $30.5 million increase, the amount needed to bring LGA back to its 2002 high-water mark.

“If legislators are serious about passing a tax bill, it must include LGA,” Peterson said.

Ron Johnson has served for 18 years on the city council of Bemidji, a growing community for which LGA is particularly important because nearly half of property in the city is tax-exempt. He has seen LGA funding ebb and flow through the years and says it has a direct impact on the health of his community.

“Our city is prudent — we squeeze extra mileage out of our vehicles and try to be mindful about the amount our residents pay in fees and taxes — but we have necessary expenses. Nothing costs the same as it did in 2002 when there was more LGA to go around,” Johnson said.

The 2017 Legislature passed a modest $15 million LGA increase, which Bemidji used to hold down its property tax levy. Other communities used the extra funds on needs like fire equipment or park improvements, while numerous cities found that higher employee health insurance costs more than ate up any LGA increase.

If the Legislature passes the desired $30.5 million increase, Johnson said his city has discussed hiring a community development director — a position eliminated due to LGA cuts in the mid-2000s — to help take advantage of opportunities for economic growth. For Granite Falls, Smiglewski said an LGA increase would likely be used to replace outdated equipment.

“We have a list of needs a mile long — and we’re not talking about $100,000 waterfalls here,” Smiglewski said.

Costly water infrastructure upgrades can’t wait

Due to aging infrastructure and new water quality regulations, hundreds of cities in Greater Minnesota are currently faced with having to invest millions in expensive upgrades to their wastewater and drinking water facilities. The CGMC is requesting $167 million in bonding for state grant and loan programs that help cities meet these astronomical costs.

Little Falls is among the cities relying on a bonding bill to pass this year. The city needs to renovate its wastewater treatment plant, a project estimated to cost more than $17 million. It is currently on the list to receive a $7 million grant through the state’s Point Source Implementation Grant Program, but that money will only come into fruition if the program is funded in the bonding bill.

“If we don’t receive grant funding, our rates will nearly triple,” said City Administrator Jon Radermacher. “We have no choice but to upgrade our plant, so this funding is absolutely critical. There is no question Little Falls and other cities in our position need the Legislature to pass a bonding bill with substantial funding for water infrastructure.”

Budget constraints force cities to take a slow path on street repairs

Another infrastructure concern that has dogged cities for years is the struggle to keep up with street repairs and maintenance. The CGMC is seeking $50 million for city streets, divided equally between cities with populations greater than 5,000 and those under 5,000.

The city of Granite Falls has identified at least 27 city blocks that need be rebuilt or overlayed, a list that grows each year. Due to budget constraints, the city plans to fix only six blocks in 2018, which is estimated to cost $927,000. In contrast, the city received only $24,635 in city-street funding through the Small Cities Assistance Program, which the 2017 Legislature funded at $8 million over two years.

“Our ‘to-do list’ is long and what can actually afford to do is surprisingly short,” Smiglewski said. “We can only do a block or two here, a block or two there. It’s not very efficient.”

Cities with populations over 5,000 receive some funding through the Municipal State Aid Street (MSAS) system, but Johnson says larger cities — particularly regional centers like Bemidji, whose daytime population nearly doubles — need more resources.

“At our rate, we aren’t keeping up,” Johnson said, noting that his city is able to budget for about one mile of street repairs a year. “We try to repair the worst, but we should be doing much more.”

Child care shortage needs attention

In addition to advocating for funding for LGA and infrastructure, the CGMC also wants legislators to pay closer attention to the growing child care shortage in Greater Minnesota. For many communities, the lack of child care has become a serious barrier to economic growth.

As a father of a 3-year-old with another child on the way, Radermacher has first-hand knowledge of the problem. When he was offered the city administrator job a couple years ago, he said the “very first question” he asked was if there child care was available in Little Falls. Ultimately, he had to live away from his wife and child for three months until they were able to obtain child care in the city.

According to a needs assessment performed by First Children’s Finance, Little Falls currently has a need for 144 more child care spots, a number that jumps to 475 when counting the adjoining zip codes. Other cities in Greater Minnesota have reported similar deficits.

“We are on the cusp of a real critical issue here,” Radermacher said. “I know people who won’t take a job because they can’t find child care. Businesses want to come here or expand, but it’s hard to do that when the workforce has child care needs.”

The CGMC is supporting legislation that provides funding to the state’s initiative foundations to encourage more in-home child care providers. It also hopes the Legislature will further explore the causes of the shortage and review whether there are any onerous or unnecessary regulations that may be preventing people from entering into the child care businesses.

“The child care shortage is a complex issue and it’s not going to be solved in one session,” Peterson said. “Legislators need to know that this is not just a family issue, it’s also an economic development issue.”

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The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 96 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.

 

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.

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 — a record attendance!

The conference kicked off Thursday afternoon with a presentation by Marnie Werner, acting director of the Center for Rural Policy, on their study titled “A Quiet Crisis: Minnesota’s Child Care Shortage.” You can watch video of her presentation here and read her Power Point presentation here.

After Werner’s presentation, we delved further into the issues surrounding Greater Minnesota’s child care shortage with a panel discussion featuring Nancy Jost, early childhood coordinator for West Central Initiative; Tim Penny, president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation; Jessica Beyer, business development specialist for First Children’s Finance; and Amanda Benda, director of Little Huskies Daycare Center & Preschool in Jackson, Minn. The discussion was moderated by Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. Each panelist provided a unique perspective on the issue and offered suggestions on ways city leaders can be more involved in developing solutions. You can watch the panel discussion here.

Broadband was also an important topic at the conference. Bill Coleman, president of Community Technology Advisors and a consultant for the Blandin Foundation, informed attendees about where broadband access stands in Greater Minnesota and outlined the economic impact of world-class broadband infrastructure. You can watch Coleman’s presentation here and read his Power Point Presentation here.
After Coleman’s presentation, CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson moderated a legislative panel discussion featuring Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead) and Rep. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville). The panelists discussed the impact of the 2017 legislative session and plans for 2018. The conversation touched on issues such as transportation, bonding and the ongoing lawsuit between the Legislature and Gov. Dayton.

The afternoon was capped by another panel discussion, this one on the role of elected officials in labor and employee relations. Brandon Fitzsimmons, an attorney with Flaherty & Hood, moderated a discussion featuring Waite Park City Administrator Shaunna Johnson, Alexandria City Administrator Marty Schultz and Moorhead City Manager Chris Volkers in which they talked about the “productive” and “unproductive” involvement of elected officials in dealing with unions and personnel issues.

In the evening, attendees enjoyed a cocktail reception and dinner followed by an entertaining and informative quiz show led by the award-winning Theater of Public Policy. During the show, three teams squared off against each other in a battle to see who knew the most about random Greater Minnesota trivia, the history of LGA and other various topics. To the audience’s surprise, Team Lobbyist (Flaherty & Hood lobbyists Tim Flaherty and Marty Seifert) ultimately bested Team Mayor (Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson) and Team Administrator (Slayton City Administrator Josh Malchow and Virginia City Administration Britt See-Benes) to take the quiz show crown.

In addition to speakers and presentations, the conference also included a membership meeting on Friday morning during which members discussed and adopted the CGMC’s 2018 legislative policy positions. To review the adopted positions, click on the following subject areas: Annexation & Land Use, Economic Development, Environment & Energy, LGA & Property Taxes and Transportation. You can also read more about the top priorities for the upcoming legislative in this CGMC Press Release that was sent to the media at the conclusion of the conference.

Thanks again to everyone who attended our 2017 Fall Conference! Please check out the photo gallery on our Facebook page to see pictures from the conference.

For Immediate Release
Nov. 17, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com 

A PDF version of this press release is available here.                                                                            

Greater Minnesota city leaders to state lawmakers: Now is not the time to press the pause button

ALEXANDRIA, MINN.— As the legal fight over funding for the Legislature drags on and the 2018 governor’s race heats up, Greater Minnesota city leaders are urging lawmakers to keep their focus on the upcoming legislative session and not fall prey to distractions. 

More than 100 other city officials from throughout Greater Minnesota convened in Alexandria this week for the CGMC’s annual two-day fall conference. At the event, CGMC members adopted the organization’s policy positions and discussed legislative priorities for the 2018 legislative session. While a bonding bill, local government aid (LGA) and city streets were among the top issues, city leaders also stressed the importance of making sure legislators stay on task.

“Now is not the time to press the pause button,” said Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski, who serves as president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “Greater Minnesota still has a lot of unaddressed needs. We are counting on our legislators to stay focused on their jobs and their commitment to strengthening our communities.”

Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson voiced concern that with an election looming, legislators may be more interested in touting accomplishments from last session than passing new legislation in 2018.

“The Legislature may have passed tax, transportation and bonding bills last year, but that doesn’t mean their job is done for the biennium,” said Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson. “Truth is, the progress made in 2017 only scratches the surface when it comes to meeting all of the ongoing and growing needs in our city and others in Greater Minnesota.”

City officials who attended the conference agreed that a bonding bill likely poses the best hope for passing a piece of major legislation in 2018, noting that many legislators have voiced a desire for a large public works bill to make key investments in the state’s infrastructure. While each city has its own individual needs, a recurring theme throughout Greater Minnesota is the need for additional state bonding dollars to help repair or replace aging waste water treatment facilities.

In addition to bonding, the CGMC plans to advocate for an LGA increase to help cities make up for inflation and increasing costs, as well as funding to assist with much-needed repairs to city streets. There are also a number of issues on the horizon that the CGMC hopes the Legislature will keep on its radar, including the impact a national tax overhaul could have on local communities and the growing child care shortage in Greater Minnesota.

“Legislators and the Governor will have plenty of work to cram into a few short weeks,” Smiglewski said. “Residents of Greater Minnesota expect our state leaders to set their squabbles aside, buckle down and pass legislation that will invest in the future of our communities.”

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Each fall, CGMC members work together to shape the Coalition’s policy positions for the upcoming legislative session. Policy committees will be convening by conference call in October and early November to draft recommendations which will be discussed and voted on by the full membership at the Fall Conference Nov. 16-17. Serving on a policy committee is a great way to contribute to the work of the CGMC. Please contact the appropriate staff member listed below if you are interested in serving on one or more of the committees. The exact meeting dates and times will be determined soon.