CGMC board meets with gubernatorial candidates (Round 2)

The CGMC Board of Directors met with gubernatorial candidates Keith Downey, Rebecca Otto and Paul Thissen on Wednesday, the second in a series of meetings with candidates running for governor. As we mentioned in last week’s CGMC in Brief, three candidates met with the board before the CGMC Fall Conference in November (read about those meetings here) and others are slated to meet with the board in January. Additional meeting dates may be added in the future if need be.

Keith Downey, the former chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and a former state representative who currently lives in Minnetonka, said his campaign theme is “Make Minnesota Work for Everyone.” His main priorities are reinvigorating the business climate by reducing taxes and regulations, fixing the achievement gap in the urban core and health care. As governor, Downey said he would reduce state spending by 15 percent and eliminate the commercial/industrial property tax, corporate tax and estate tax. Stating that “LGA is not something I would have dreamed up,” Downey said LGA funding should be only for “core services,” not “quality of life” items like community centers, swimming pools or libraries, and he believes the first-class cities are not as dependent on LGA as other communities. He discussed a proposal from when he was a legislator which would take 50 percent of LGA and convert it to a grant and loan program for cities. Some of the grants would be awarded based on specific projects and some would be based on innovative collaborations between local governments.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto, a DFLer from Marine on St. Croix who has served in her current position for three terms, says “Renew Minnesota” is her campaign theme. Her top priorities are health care, attracting jobs and manufacturers through the “clean energy economy,” and providing two years of paid tuition to any Minnesota high school graduate (provided they maintain certain stipulations). She emphasized her goal to move the state to a single-payer system, claiming it would attract businesses and reduce health care costs, particularly for local governments. She said she supports LGA and that small communities in particular need it due to the economies of scale. On the issue of environmental regulations, Otto stressed the importance of good science and the need to work with local governments and other stakeholders. She also expressed concern that the state needs to do more to address aging infrastructure, particularly in smaller cities that don’t have the population necessary to spread out costs.

State Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) has served in the House since 2002, including a stint as Speaker of House in 2013-14. He emphasized his commitment to “getting stuff done” and said he wants all Minnesotans to prosper and feel a sense of belonging, no matter where they live. He cited a number of priorities, including economic security, education, health care, infrastructure, child care and housing. He expressed concern about the state budget deficit, noting his accomplishments in balancing the budget as Speaker. He further stated his biggest regret from his time as Speaker is not passing a comprehensive transportation bill including a gas tax increase. Thissen said he is a strong supporter of LGA, calling it a “critical component of what keeps Minnesota great.” On environmental regulations, he said it is important that city leaders have a “seat at the table” and that he wants to fashion the regulatory process so that resources are used wisely to reach clean water goals.

You can learn more about the candidates and their priorities at their campaign websites:

November budget forecast shows deficit ‒ and uncertainty

The November budget forecast released this week by Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) shows a small deficit in the current biennium ($188 million for FY 2018-19) and a larger deficit for the following biennium ($586 million for FY 2020-21). In addition, MMB does not include the cost of inflation in its long-term forecasts; it estimates the cost of inflation for FY 2020-21 to be approximately $1.3 billion.

There are significant unknowns at the federal level, including whether tax reform or funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will pass, and whether the economy continues its historic expansion. The state’s previous February forecast included assumptions regarding federal legislation that were overly positive ‒ and was higher than the average of 50 other forecasts. This newest November forecast changed those assumptions.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) indicated that changes in this November forecast were made for political purposes. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) called the report “obsolete on arrival” due to the pending actions at the federal level. Gov. Dayton urged caution and noted that he would not use any budget reserves for what, in his opinion, could be solved with sound budgeting this session.

Draft Impaired Waters List open for comment

The MPCA has opened the Draft Impaired Waters list for comment. Every two years, the MPCA updates this list which identifies the waters that do not meet Minnesota’s water quality standards. The list guides where the MPCA will be developing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans. If your wastewater facility discharges upstream of an impaired water, this increases the likelihood that a limit that addresses the impairment could be placed in your permit.

You can find the draft list and instructions on how to comment here. We encourage all cities to work with your wastewater operators and engineers to review the list and determine whether you are discharging into an impaired water. If you believe the impairment listing is erroneous, you may want to work with your engineer or operator to submit comments. Because these determinations are unique to each water body, the CGMC will not be submitting comments on this list.

If you have any questions on this issue, please contact Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

GOP gubernatorial candidates bash LGA at forum

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.

CGMC board meets with gubernatorial candidates (Round 1)

Gubernatorial candidates St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, State Rep. Tina Liebling and State Rep. Erin Murphy — all DFLers — met with the CGMC Board of Directors on Nov. 15 or Nov. 16 in Alexandria, the first in a series of planned meetings with candidates running for governor. Several other candidates are scheduled to meet with the board at upcoming meetings in December and January.

To help the candidates prepare, CGMC staff sent them our “Elections 2018” information packet about the issues important to CGMC members including LGA, economic development, transportation, environmental regulations and annexation. At the meetings, CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson asked the candidates a series of questions on these topics before turning it over to the board for additional questions.

Mayor Coleman touted his experience in local government, noting his 12 years as mayor of St. Paul and six years on the City Council, as well as his involvement with non-partisan organizations like the National League of Cities. He emphasized the importance of “investing in our communities” through things like LGA and funding for local roads and other infrastructure. He said he wants to “stand with [the CGMC] on LGA” and supports an inflationary increase. He also expressed support for raising the gas tax to fund transportation needs. When asked about environmental regulations, Coleman said the state should not impose regulations that are financially impossible for cities to meet and said the state needs to give cities more resources to comply with standards.

Rep. Liebling, a seven-term legislator from Rochester, said she is running for governor because she believes “politics should be about improving people’s lives” and wants to help “ordinary Minnesotans.” She noted that she has supported LGA as a legislator and appreciates its role in preventing extremes (in terms of wealthy vs. poor communities) in our state. She expressed frustration at the “dishonest” way Minnesota does its budget because the state does not currently factor in inflation, and said that she would do so if elected governor. Other priorities for Rep. Liebling included health care, education and economic development as a priority, particularly providing more resources for cities to upgrade their broadband infrastructure. When it comes to environmental regulations, she said she would like to see the state take the cost burden off the property taxpayers and also look for alternative ways to meet standards rather than a “one size fits all” approach.

Rep. Murphy, a six-term legislator from St. Paul, stressed her passion for public service and her desire to build our state’s future by developing long-term solutions. When discussing her budget priorities, Rep. Murphy said she would “fully fund LGA,” and that schools and health care are also at the top of her list. She expressed concern about the rising costs that cities face, particularly in regard to health insurance and water infrastructure. She said she would make water infrastructure a top bonding priority and that she supports raising the gas tax to fund transportation. Rep. Murphy also said that if elected, she would work closely with city leaders to develop to environmental regulations and other policies that affect cities.

You can learn more about the candidates and their priorities at their campaign websites:

CGMC Fall Conference sees record attendance!

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.

NEWS RELEASE – Greater Minn. city leaders to state lawmakers: Now is not the time to press the pause button

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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CGMC board to meet with gubernatorial candidates

As we gear up for the 2018 election, the CGMC has extended invitations to gubernatorial candidates to meet with the CGMC Board of Directors this fall and winter. The first of these meetings are scheduled to take place next week, with additional meetings to follow in December and January (other meetings will be added if more candidates join the race).

To help the candidates prepare for the meeting, CGMC staff sent them an information packet titled “Elections 2018: Greater Minnesota’s Top Issues”, which provides information about number of issues that are important to Greater Minnesota communities including LGA, economic development, transportation and environmental regulation.

Wild rice sulfate rulemaking hearings begin this week

The MPCA began hearings this week on the sulfate water quality standard which will apply to facilities that discharge into “wild rice waters.” Cities located within 25-60 miles upstream of such waters will be evaluated first by the MPCA to determine whether a limit is required. CGMC members on the list include Alexandria, Babbitt, Bagley, Bemidji, Biwabik, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Ely, Foley, Hinckley, Hoyt Lakes, Le Sueur (Minnesota River Valley Public Utilities Commission), Plainview, Princeton, Red Wing, Rushford, Sandstone, Staples, Wabasha, Wadena and Winona.
 
Our preliminary analysis demonstrates that future compliance with the sulfate standard could require expensive treatment upgrades such as reverse osmosis, membrane filtration, and/or crystallization and evaporation. These upgrades could cost individual cities $10-$20 million or more, depending upon site-specific information. 
 
We recommend that affected cities participate in the rulemaking process by submitting comments and/or attending a public hearing. Hearings began Oct. 23 in St. Paul, and will be held around the state over the next few weeks. You can find a complete list of hearings here.
 
We are in the process of finalizing our talking points for affected cities and will be circulating those soon. If you would like a copy or have other questions, please email Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

Volunteers needed to help set CGMC policy positions

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.