Below is a press release that was sent to media outlets throughout the state today. A PDF version is available here.
For Immediate Release
April 24, 2015
Contact: Julie Liew
Greater Minnesota cities call on rural Republicans to fix House tax bill
ST. PAUL—The House Republicans are poised to pass an omnibus tax bill that cuts state aid to “first class cities” and undermines the integrity of the entire Local Government Aid program.
The tax bill passed out of the Ways & Means Committee today and now heads to the House floor, where it is expected to be up for a vote early next week. The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) has been outspoken in its opposition to the bill because it cuts $85 million from the LGA program by drastically reducing aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth (which are considered the state’s “first class cities” along with Rochester, whose aid is not affected by the bill) and also freezes the total appropriation for the LGA program.
“LGA is the bedrock of rural communities. The House GOP’s attempt to impose dramatic cuts to first class cities threatens the long-term viability of the LGA program and does nothing to help Greater Minnesota,” said CGMC President and Ely City Councilor Heidi Omerza, who also sent a letter to all House members earlier this week detailing her concerns about the tax bill’s treatment of LGA.
Mark Olstad, a member of the East Grand Forks City Council and the CGMC Board of Directors, also expressed frustration at the House Republicans’ actions given the state’s massive budget surplus and their vow at the beginning of the session to focus on the needs of Greater Minnesota.
“I’m shocked that with a $2 billion surplus the Republicans would show such disregard for rural Minnesota,” Olstad said. “The LGA program helps keep property taxes down and allows cities to provide vital services like police and fire protection, libraries and street repair. Given the surplus, LGA should receive increased funding – we shouldn’t even be considering cuts or freezes.”
The CGMC supported a bill authored by Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) that would have increased the LGA appropriation by about $45.5 million over two years, which would restore LGA funding back to its 2002 level. The bill had strong bipartisan support, but was ultimately rejected by the House Tax Committee in favor of the proposal that reduces funding for the program and arbitrarily punishes first class cities.
Omerza emphasized that there is still time for the House Republicans to reverse course and demonstrate that they recognize that any cuts to the LGA program will have a detrimental effect on cities throughout the state, particularly those in Greater Minnesota. She noted that this is an opportunity for the representatives from rural districts, who played a key role in switching the majority of the House to Republican control, to stand up for the communities they represent.
“It’s time for our rural legislators to take a stand against these cuts and demand that funding for the LGA program be brought back to the level it was at more than a decade ago,” Omerza said. “We are calling on them to fix this.”
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 85 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.