Category archives
LGA

Below is a column by CGMC President and Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson. It has appeared in the Star Tribune, Winona Daily News, Bemidji Pioneer and other newspapers.

“I am preaching to the choir but what I’m asking is for the choir to sing loudly for the next three months.”

Gov. Tim Walz was touting his plan to boost Local Government Aid funding when he said this at a Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) event earlier this year. He told the audience of Greater Minnesota city officials that while he was planning to include a $30.5 million LGA increase in his then-unreleased budget, he was going to need our help to get the proposal across the finish line.

As a Bemidji city councilor and president of the CGMC, I am a proud member of LGA “choir.” I have been warming up my voice and now — with the halfway-point of the legislative session fast approaching — I’m ready to sing.

The average Minnesotan likely knows little about LGA, but it is a key reason why Minnesota consistently boasts a stronger economy and better quality of life than neighboring states. Created in 1971, the LGA program distributes aid to cities using a formula that compares a city’s property tax base to its needs. Its purpose is to ensure that all cities are able to provide a similar level of services regardless of the strength of their tax base. For some cities, LGA constitutes nearly half of their annual budget.

As the Legislature debates the merits of Gov. Walz’s budget proposal and the House and Senate craft budgets of their own, I urge lawmakers to keep the $30.5 million LGA increase in their plans. Here’s why:

LGA benefits all Minnesotans. Approximately 90 percent of Minnesota cities receive LGA — from tiny rural towns to the largest cities. It helps narrow disparities between communities so that every city can provide important services and amenities like public safety, libraries, parks and plowed streets. If you live, work, go to school, visit the doctor or shop in a Minnesota city, chances are you benefit from LGA.

LGA has not kept up with rising costs. The proposed $30.5 million increase would bring LGA funding back to its 2002 highpoint, not counting for inflation. In the ensuing years, costs have gone up for everything from employee health insurance to construction materials. When there is record-breaking snowfall, we can’t leave the streets unplowed. If there is a fire, we need equipment and trained firefighters to put it out. City officials make tough financial decisions every day, but needs do not go away. That struggle is even harder when LGA is underfunded.

LGA helps restrain property taxes. Without LGA, the average city receiving aid would have to increase its property tax rate by more than 65 percent in order to continue to provide the same level of services. LGA also has a proven track record of helping slow the growth of city levies. From 2013 to 2014, the last time there was a significant LGA increase, many communities kept their levies flat or even reduced them.

LGA has bipartisan support. Republican and Democrat legislators have teamed up to sponsor legislation to increase LGA, and their bills have support from rural and urban legislators on both sides of the aisle. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican, has also voiced support for LGA. In a time when nearly everything has become uber-political, lawmakers should embrace this opportunity to find common ground.

LGA is a small investment with a big payoff. LGA currently represents less than 3 percent of the state budget. The proposed $30.5 million increase is just a fraction of the Governor’s budget proposal. It is a relatively small price to pay to boost a program that has a tremendous impact on cities across the state.

City officials in the 758 Minnesota cities that receive LGA can attest to the integral role it plays in keeping our communities afloat and our state strong. As legislators and the Governor continue the daunting task of creating the state budget, I hope they keep the health and prosperity of our cities in mind by including the $30.5 million LGA increase in the final product.

Local Government Aid (LGA) was the focus of a hearing in the House Local and Property Tax Division on Monday. The CGMC’s two LGA bills, HF 1101 and HF 1102 were on the agenda. Both bills increase the LGA appropriation by $30.5 million and make updates to the formula multipliers. HF 1101 would also peg the LGA appropriation to inflation and population growth so that the appropriation continues to grow over time.

Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) is the chief author of HF 1102 and spoke to the important role LGA plays in addressing inequities in property tax wealth across Minnesota and how the CGMC’s proposal would improve the long-term stability of the program. He drew on his experience as the former mayor of Aurora and a long-time city councilor. Rep. Lislegard was joined by Eveleth City Councilor Brad Hadrava who told legislators about the rising constructions costs the city faces and how increased LGA will help the city continue its efforts to preserve aging public buildings and address the need for capital improvements.

HF 1101 is sponsored by Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter). At the hearing, he discussed his experience as a city councilor in St. Peter, telling his colleagues that St. Peter used a small increase in LGA to purchase a new tire balancer for the public works department, but that in order for the city to address critical needs funding for LGA must be restored. CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson testified on the annual inflation and population adjustment contained in HF 1101, citing increases in health insurance costs, population growth and an overall steady rise in city costs to underscore the need for LGA to keep pace with inflation.

The division approved both CGMC bills for consideration in a later division report that will be included in the House’s final omnibus tax bill. The two bills were among five before the division that would increase the LGA appropriation by $30.5 million. The division also heard from the Department of Revenue about the restoration of LGA funding in Gov. Walz’s proposed budget.  You can listen to the full Division hearing by clicking this link.

The House Property and Local Tax Division will hear a wide range of Local Government Aid bills next Monday and Wednesday. This includes the CGMC’s two LGA bills, HF1101 andHF1102, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter) and Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora), respectively. Both bills increase the LGA appropriation by $30.5 million and make updates to the formula multipliers. HF1101 would also peg the LGA appropriation to inflation and population growth so that the appropriation continues to grow over time.
 
In addition to the CGMC’s LGA proposals, the division will also discuss bills that restore the LGA appropriation to its 2002 level, direct additional LGA to specific cities or make tweaks to parts of the LGA formula such as the sparsity adjustment. You can find the full meeting agenda on the division’s webpage.

The hearing is on Monday, March 11 at 12:45 p.m. in Room 5 of the State Office Building in St. Paul. Any bills that are not heard on Monday will be heard on Wednesday, March at 6:45 p.m. in Room 300 South of the State Office Building.  

Gov. Tim Walz made good on his promise to support Local Government Aid (LGA) when he unveiled his budget recommendations today. The Governor’s budget proposal includes a $30.5 million increase in LGA, which is the amount needed to bring the program back to its 2002 level. Restoring LGA to the 2002 funding level is the top priority for the CGMC this session, so we are excited to have the Governor’s support.

The Governor’s budget proposal for LGA is encouraging, but there is still a long ways to go until the state budget is finalized. It is vital that we let the Governor know we appreciate his efforts and encourage him to keep up the momentum on LGA.

Take action now! Contact Governor Walz as soon as possible and let him know how important LGA is to your community and thank him for including the $30.5 million LGA increase in his budget recommendations.

Contact info for Gov. Walz

  • Send an email using this online contact form
  • Call the Governor’s Office’s at 651-201-3400 or toll-free at 800-657-3717
  • Mail a letter to:
    Office of Governor Tim Walz 
    130 State Capitol
    75 Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
    St. Paul, MN 55155

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.

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 Governor Tim Walz’s budget proposal:

“The Governor’s budget proposal makes key investments that will go a long way toward strengthening Greater Minnesota communities.

“City leaders have long been seeking to bring the LGA program back up to its 2002 high-water mark, and the Governor’s proposal would finally get us there. We’re grateful that Gov. Walz recognizes the vital role LGA plays in making sure that all Minnesota communities can continue to provide the same great opportunities to work, raise a family and start a business. We’re hopeful the Legislature will follow the Governor’s lead to restore funding for this critical program.

“I also want to thank the Governor for acknowledging other important issues that impact Greater Minnesota. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear from a constituent about the need for better roads, so it’s encouraging that Gov. Walz is exploring ways to put additional revenue into our state transportation system. Child care is another issue that in recent years has emerged as one of the top impediments to economic growth in rural communities. I’m glad to see that the Governor’s budget plan includes funding to help address this need.

“I look forward to joining other city officials to work with Gov. Walz, legislative leaders and our local legislators to make sure that Greater Minnesota’s priorities continue to be a major focal point of discussions and are hopefully included the final budget.”

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

ST. PAUL—City officials are hopeful that bipartisan legislation introduced today in the Minnesota Legislature will give a long-awaited boost to the state’s Local Government Aid (LGA) program.

SF 1304/HF 1102, led by chief authors Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) and Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora), aims to increase LGA funding by $30.5 million, the amount needed to bring the program back up to its 2002 high-water mark. The proposal has generated strong bipartisan support from numerous Republican and Democrat co-authors who represent rural and metro districts.

“As former city officials turned state legislators, Sen. Weber and Rep. Lislegard have first-hand knowledge of the important role LGA plays in keeping Minnesota’s communities strong.” said Ron Johnson, a member of the Bemidji City Council and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “I want to thank them, as well as the powerful group of co-authors from both parties, for taking on this critical issue.”

Rep. Lislegard, who served as mayor of Aurora until getting elected to the Legislature in 2018, said he is proud to author the LGA bill as one of his first pieces of legislation.

“This legislation is key to helping cities all across the state keep up with maintenance and infrastructure, and provide public safety and other critical services Minnesotans count on while keeping property taxes in check,” Rep. Lislegard said. “Funding from LGA isn’t a want, but is a need for communities like those I represent, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and city leaders to deliver this much-needed boost.”

A former mayor of Luverne, Sen. Weber has long been one of the most active and vocal LGA supporters in the Legislature, having previously authored similar legislation to increase funding for the program.  

“I’m proud to stand with Greater Minnesota communities and take the lead on this important legislation in the Senate,” he said.

The $30.5 million LGA increase is the CGMC’s top priority this legislative session. While LGA has had modest bumps in funding in recent years, Greater Minnesota city officials are optimistic that 2019 will finally be the year that the program is restored to its 2002 high point, before it was plagued by a decade of cuts and stagnant funding.

One reason for the renewed enthusiasm is that Gov. Tim Walz has frequently pledged his support for LGA, both on the campaign trail and since taking office. Speaking at a CGMC event last month, Gov. Walz said he plans to include a $30 million LGA increase in his budget plan, which is anticipated to be unveiled next week.

“LGA really embodies the ‘one Minnesota’ vision that the Governor often mentions,” said CGMC President Johnson, noting that nearly 90 percent of Minnesota cities receive LGA. “Whether you live in the heart of downtown Minneapolis or on the edge of Ortonville, LGA truly is a program that benefits the entire state.”

In addition to the funding appropriation bill, the CGMC is advocating for SF 1305/HF 1101, authored by Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) and Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter), which would increase LGA funding each year to account for inflation and population growth. Despite the program’s recent appropriation increases, LGA funding is still well below where it should be if it kept up with inflation and population growth.

Rep. Brand, a former St. Peter City Council member, said the bill will help communities stay on top of their growing needs.

“Health insurance premiums, construction materials and — as we’ve sure seen this winter — costs for essential services like snow removal and salting continue to go up year after year,” he said. “Cities are pretty adept at trying to do more with less, but it gets more difficult as LGA fails to keep pace with rising costs.”

Sen. Eken added, “While LGA funding growth has stalled, city costs and service pressures continue to rise. Without adjusting the program for these realities, cities that depend on LGA will struggle to continue making the investments that create a high standard of living and quality of life in Minnesota.”

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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.

While speaking to CGMC members during our Legislative Action Day luncheon on Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz pledged his support for a $30 million increase to the Local Government Aid program. He said he intends to include the boost in his budget proposal, which is slated to be unveiled Feb. 19.
 
The full video of the Governor’s Legislative Action Day speech can be viewed on our CGMC YouTube channel here.
 
Gov. Walz told the crowd of more than 50 city leaders who braved the frigid temperatures to attend the Legislative Action Day festivities that “community prosperity” will be one of his top three budget priorities, along with education and health care. Noting that he trusts city officials to make the decisions that are best for their communities, Gov. Walz said that restoring LGA to it 2002 funding level is an important element in ensuring that all parts of our state thrive.
 
In addition to LGA, Gov. Walz emphasized that he wants to pass a comprehensive transportation package this session that focuses on highways and bridges in Greater Minnesota. He reiterated his push to increase the gas tax to help pay for transportation needs. He also expressed the need for better broadband statewide, adding that “we don’t have time to wait until 2025” for improved access.
 
Several media outlets covered the Governor’s remarks to our members. You can read their articles at the links below:

In addition, the Mankato Free Press published an editorial in support of Gov. Walz’s plan to increase LGA funding.

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

Below is statement from CGMC President and Bemidji City Council Member Ron Johnson regarding today’s announcement that Minnesota’s budget surplus has increased to $1.5 billion:

“With the state clearly on solid financial footing, I’m hopeful that Governor-elect Walz and the new Legislature will seize this opportunity to strengthen communities across the state by increasing Local Government Aid. City leaders in Greater Minnesota were encouraged that Walz frequently campaigned on the idea of boosting LGA, and this new budget forecast will allow him to make good on that promise.

“The CGMC’s top priority for the upcoming legislative session is a $30.5 million LGA increase, which is the amount needed to bring the program back up to its 2002 high-water mark. LGA is the most important state program to help cities restrain property taxes and afford essential services like public safety, libraries and snow removal. As city officials, we try our best to craft responsible budgets, but it has been a struggle in recent years as LGA funding has failed to keep pace with rising costs. We are eager to work with Walz and the new Legislature to make an LGA increase a reality this session.”

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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!