With first Greater Minnesota governor in decades, city leaders see major opportunity with Walz Administration
ALEXANDRIA, MINN.—For the first time in more than three decades, Minnesotans have elected a governor who resides in Greater Minnesota. With Governor-elect Tim Walz’s outstate roots and campaign-trail focus on uniting rural and urban interests into “One Minnesota,” rural city leaders are optimistic that the upcoming legislative session will see a renewed emphasis on advancing Greater Minnesota priorities.
“It’s no secret that a strong Greater Minnesota strengthens the entire state,” said Audrey Nelsen, a member of the Willmar City Council and vice president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “Tim Walz didn’t shy away from that message on the campaign trail. As city leaders and residents of Greater Minnesota, it is our job to make sure he doesn’t lose that focus when he takes office.”
That message reverberated this week as more than 100 mayors, city councilors and city staffers from across Greater Minnesota convened in Alexandria for the CGMC’s annual two-day fall conference. At the event, CGMC members adopted the organization’s policy positions and discussed priorities for the 2019 legislative session, including securing an increase in Local Government Aid (LGA), funding for wastewater infrastructure and finding solutions to the state’s child care shortage. They also emphasized the need to work closely with Walz and the Legislature to ensure that Greater Minnesota has a seat at the table when it comes to crafting the state budget and other legislative priorities.
While the 2018 election appeared to highlight Minnesota’s so-called rural/urban divide—with rural areas continuing to lean heavily Republican and Democrats picking up 16 seats in the suburbs and strengthening their hold on the urban core—many city leaders say talk of the divide is overblown.
“Everyone is sick of the divisiveness,” Nelsen said. “There are so many issues that matter to all Minnesotans, not everything has to be red versus blue. We all need safe roads, clean water and good jobs. There is plenty of common ground to be found if our state lawmakers are willing to look for it.”
For CGMC members, the main issue in which they hope Walz, the GOP-led Senate and the DFL-led House can come to agreement is on a boost in Local Government Aid (LGA). With the tax bill slated to be one of the main items on the agenda when the Legislature convenes in January, the CGMC is seeking a $30.5 million LGA increase, the amount needed to bring the program back to its 2002 level. Because the costs for cities continue to rise each year, the organization is also seeking to add a permanent annual inflationary increase for LGA into law.
“There is probably no single issue that embodies the concept of ‘One Minnesota’ as clearly as Local Government Aid,” said Bradley Peterson, executive director of the CGMC. “The exact purpose of the program is to level the playing field to make sure that all communities can provide essential services and quality-of-life amenities regardless of their wealth.”
CGMC members have reason to be optimistic about the prospects of an LGA increase this year. Walz repeatedly affirmed his support for bolstering the program during the gubernatorial race, and there is strong bipartisan support for LGA among rural, urban and suburban legislators alike.
“LGA is a great example of a program that bridges the divide between large cities like St. Paul and small ones like St. Charles,” Nelsen said. “If the push for ‘One Minnesota’ is going to work, Governor Walz and the Legislature will have to look for issues like LGA where they can put politics aside and work together to improve our communities and state.”
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 on Twitter @greatermncities.