Join city leaders from across the state at CGMC’s Legislative Action Day

Registration is now open for the CGMC’s Legislative Action Day 2019!

Our annual “day at the Capitol” event will be held Wednesday, January 30, 2019 in St. Paul. Legislative Action Day is always a great opportunity to build connections between local officials and legislators and advocate for the priorities of Greater Minnesota cities. To attend, please go to greatermncities.org/LAD19 to fill out the online registration form. The cost is $70 per person, and attendees may pay online or be invoiced later. Please register by Jan. 21.

The day will kick off at 10:30 a.m. with a brief legislative update followed by lunch featuring a yet-to-be-determined speaker (we have extended an invitation to Governor-elect Tim Walz and are currently awaiting his response). Members will then spend the afternoon meeting with their legislators at the House and Senate offices (members should make their own appointments for meetings with legislators between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. that day). The daylong event concludes with a legislative reception and dinner at Mancini’s Char House & Lounge that evening. The full agenda and venue information can be found on this Legislative Action Day flyer.

For those who want to spend the night in St. Paul, a block of rooms is reserved for the CGMC for the nights of Jan. 29-30 at the Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge ($139+tax, call 651-227-8711 to book). The deadline to book a room under the block is Jan. 11. 

If you have any questions about Legislative Action Day, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917.

CGMC President: Strong budget surplus gives Walz, legislators opportunity to boost LGA

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.

Minnesota House and Senate restructure, name committee chairs

Before sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner last week, the new Minnesota House DFL majority announced its committees and chairs for the 2019 legislative session. Most notable for CGMC priorities is that Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), a longtime advocate for the Local Government Aid program, will serve as chair of the House Tax Committee.

The DFL made a few structural changes relevant to CGMC priorities, including the creation of a Greater Minnesota Jobs & Economic Development Division. The new Greater Minnesota committee will be chaired by Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona). The new majority also combined the Transportation Finance and Transportation Policy committees. This new joint committee will be chaired by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis), who also served as transportation finance chair last time the DFL held the House majority. There was also a shake up on the bonding committee, where longtime Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) will now serve as chair, with former chair Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) moving over to chair a newly created Housing Finance & Policy Division.

Here are a few of the committee chairs most relevant to CGMC’s priorities:

  • Taxes – Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth)
  • Capital Investment – Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown)
  • Environment & Natural Resources Finance Division – Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul)
  • Environment & Natural Resources Policy – Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji)
  • Subcommittee on Water – Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood)
  • Transportation Finance & Policy – Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis)
  • Jobs & Economic Development Finance Division – Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul)
  • Greater Minnesota Jobs & Economic Development Finance Division – Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona)
  • Government Operations – Rep. Michael Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley)

A full list of House committee chairs can be found HERE. The full membership of these committees will likely be named in mid-December.

The Minnesota Senate also made committee announcements this week. Although the majority party in the Senate has not changed, the departure of Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) from the Legislature led to some minor shake ups in the committee structure. Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) was chosen to take Fischbach’s place as Senate President, leaving a vacancy in the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee. Taking Miller’s place as chair of that committee will be Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake). Pratt, who has served in the Senate since 2012, chaired the E-12 Policy Committee during the 2017-18 biennium and did not serve on the Jobs Committee during that span.

CGMC Fall Conference sees record attendance for second year in a row

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!

With first Greater Minnesota governor in decades, city leaders see major opportunity with Walz Administration

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

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.”

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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 on Twitter @greatermncities.

Election 2018: Walz wins, House flips, Senate stays the same

For the first time since Governor Rudy Perpich (1976-79, 1983-91), Minnesota’s executive branch will be led by a governor from Greater Minnesota. With 54 percent of the vote, Tim Walz bested Jeff Johnson to win the governor’s race.

Governor-elect Walz, who lives in Mankato, campaigned heavily under the motto “One Minnesota,” which focused on building bridges to close the divides between Republicans and Democrats, urban versus rural and other schisms that exist across the state and across our political landscape. On the campaign trail, Walz championed the importance of Greater Minnesota and the role that all communities across the state play in making Minnesota’s economic engine run.
 
In addition to determining Minnesota’s next governor, control of both the Minnesota House and Senate were on the line this election. On the House side, the Democrats needed to win 11 seats to take the majority. Most pundits expected Democrats to gain seats, possibly winning enough to gain control. In the end, they won 18 seats, which gives them a 76-58 majority. In Greater Minnesota, John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) beat Matt Bliss (R-Pennington), reclaiming a seat he lost two years ago after serving in the House from 2009 to 2017. Persell won by just eight votes, which will trigger an automatic recount. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) beat Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud) after Knobloch suspended campaigning after allegations of child abuse arose in September. The remaining 16 seats picked up by the Democrats were all in the Twin Cities suburbs. Of the Democrats’ 76-seat House majority, only 17 (22 percent) members represent districts in Greater Minnesota. It is expected that Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), who is currently House minority leader, will be elected House Speaker when the caucus gathers to select its leadership. If so, she was take over the position that Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) has held since January 2015.
 
This was not a year that was initially expected to be consequential for the Minnesota Senate. However, when Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) joined Tim Pawlenty’s gubernatorial ticket, it opened up a Republican seat in a body where the Republicans held a 34-33 majority. Rep. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville) faced Joe Perske, former mayor of Sartell. Howe won the race with 57 percent of the vote, maintaining Republican control of the Senate with a one-vote majority.
 
After this election, Minnesota will be only state in the nation with different parties controlling the House and Senate. With a DFL House whose membership skews heavily urban/suburban, a Republican Senate whose membership is heavily from Greater Minnesota, and a new governor, we will likely need to spend considerable time educating new legislators, agency commissioners and staff in the administration. Additionally, with the significant number of metro-area legislators in the House, we will need to act strategically in building opportunities to advance the priorities of our Greater Minnesota communities.      
 
For a more detailed recap of the election and to learn more about what to expect in the upcoming legislative session, please join us next week at the CGMC Fall Conference.

Election 2018: Key races to watch on election night

With Election Day coming up on Tuesday, we want to give you a few of things to watch for as you digest the results. With an open seat for governor, a special election in the State Senate, and several competitive races in the Minnesota House, there are a number of plausible scenarios for the distribution of power at the State Capitol. Please note that there might be close contests or surprising results in a number of races, not just the ones mentioned below. There is always a sleeper or two that nobody saw coming.

Governor’s Race
The one thing we know for sure is that Minnesota will elect a new governor. Republican Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner from Plymouth, and DFLer Tim Walz, a U.S. representative from Mankato, have been running a spirited race for the seat being vacated by Gov. Dayton. Most public polling shows Walz in the lead, but the margin has narrowed a bit as we have gotten closer to the election. Walz is expected to do very well in the metro, while Johnson will likely fare better in many parts of Greater Minnesota. Keep your eye on southern Minnesota — if Walz holds even with Johnson in his congressional district, the congressman could have the edge.

Senate District 13 Special Election
When Michelle Fischbach vacated her Senate seat to run for lieutenant governor with Tim Pawlenty, the Senate found itself evenly divided at 33-33. Therefore, the Senate special election for the St. Cloud-area seat has taken on out-sized importance as current State Rep. Jeff Howe (R) dukes it out with former Sartell mayor and current County Commissioner Joe Perske (DFL). Ordinarily a race like this would be considered a slam dunk for the GOP. However, in an unpredictable year where outside groups have spent more than $1 million on just this one race — and with two high-quality candidates facing off — anything can happen. Look for it to be close.

Minnesota House
The GOP has controlled the Minnesota House since the 2014 election (the GOP held a 77-57 majority over the DFL during the last session), but with President Trump facing a low approval rating in many parts of the state, Democrats feel positive about their chances to seize control. In order to do so, they must have a net gain of 11 seats — no easy task.

Democrats are focusing most of their efforts on 12 seats currently held by Republicans but which are in districts won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Most of these are in the suburbs and include District 36A, an open seat in the northern suburbs featuring a race between Bill Maresh (R) and Zach Stephenson (DFL). Also on the radar are first-term Republican Reps. Randy Jessup (District 42A), Keith Franke (District 54A), Regina Barr (District 52B) and Dario Anselmo (District 49A). On the DFL side, first-term legislator Rep. Erin Koegel (District 37A), who won by less than 600 votes in 2016, is facing a challenge from newcomer Anthony Wilder (R).

While the suburbs have been getting most of the attention, there are several key races in Greater Minnesota. The DFL sees opportunities for pick-up in northern Minnesota, where former Itasca County Sheriff Pat Medure (DFL) is facing first-termer Rep. Sandy Layman (R) in the District 5B seat anchored by Grand Rapids. To the west, former Rep. John Persell (DFL) is looking to regain his seat from current Rep. Matt Bliss (R) in the Bemidji area (District 5A).

In southern Minnesota, Republicans are looking at a pair of open seats as their best pick-up chances. In District 19A, St. Peter City Councilor Jeff Brand (DFL) is facing off against former North Mankato City Councilor Kim Spears (R). In the Northfield area, Todd Lippert (DFL) is squaring off against Josh Gare (R). In order for the DFL to have any chance of winning the majority in the House, they almost certainly need to retain these seats.

As stated above, almost any scenario is possible during this unpredictable election season. No matter the outcome, we will break it all down and what it means for Greater Minnesota after the election.

Minnesota’s infrastructure gets a ‘C’ from civil engineers group

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released a report card on Minnesota’s infrastructure this week, and it’s not one we’ll want to take home and display on the refrigerator. Overall, Minnesota’s infrastructure received a “C” grade from the group, with grades in the nine individual categories ranging from a “B” in aviation to a lowly “D+” in roads.

When comes to our roads, CGMC In Brief readers are familiar with the surprising statistic that despite ranking 22nd in population and 12th in land mass, Minnesota is home to the fifth-most road miles of any state. Maintaining that large of a system is a huge challenge, the ASCE notes, and Minnesota’s funding shortfall continues to grow with no clear or easy answers in sight.

Other grades in the report included a “C” in wastewater and “C-“ in drinking water, which further highlights one of the CGMC’s top goals in recent years — the need for more state investment in clean water infrastructure.

You can see all of the grades and the full report card here.

Lawsuit puts water infrastructure funding in jeopardy

During the last legislative session, the Legislature funded $98 million worth of projects in the bonding bill through a new type of revenue bond to be paid back using the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF). The projects funded using these bonds includes $38.3 million for the Point Source Implementation Grant Program (PSIG), $14.6 million for the Water Infrastructure Fund (WIF) for wastewater projects, and $6 million in matching funds for U.S. EPA funding — all programs that the CGMC supports and are widely used by our member cities.

Last week, a coalition of eight environmental groups served the State of Minnesota with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the funding source for these projects. The environmental groups claim that financing these projects with bonds paid for out of the ENRTF violates the State Constitution. 

We are in the process of investigating this matter on behalf of the CGMC and its members. There is still some uncertainty, but we do know is that this lawsuit endangers the PSIG and WIF funding contained in the 2018 bonding bill and could impact several of our members who were slated to receive this funding. Sale of the bonds to fund these programs could be postponed or even cancelled as a result of the proposed lawsuit, delaying important wastewater and related projects for multiple CGMC members.

You can read more about the lawsuit in this Star Tribune article and this article from MPR.

We will continue to monitor this situation. If you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

Register for the CGMC Fall Conference!

Registration is now open for the CGMC Fall Conference! The conference will be held Nov.15-16, 2018 at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center in Alexandria and will feature presentations, discussions and speakers on a number of important topics. The packed agenda includes:

  • Luncheon presentation by Myron Frans, commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget
  • Keynote dinner featuring Tom Hauser, chief political reporter for ABC5 Eyewitness News
  • Legislative panel discussion on child care
  • 2018 election recap and analysis
  • A discussion featuring Greater MN and metro-area elected officials who are working to bridge the rural/urban divide
  • Presentation on annexation and why could be a significant issue in the next legislative session
  • Full membership meeting to discuss and adopt the CGMC’s policy positions and priorities for the upcoming legislative (it’s critical that your city lend its voice to this discussion!)
  • …and more!

CONFERENCE DETAILS
See this CONFERENCE AGENDA & VENUE INFORMATION for full details.

REGISTER TODAY!
Please register online at greatermncities.org/FallConf18. The deadline to register is Nov. 7. 

HOTEL INFORMATION
* Please note that attendees are responsible for their own hotel reservations.*

Arrowwood has a block of rooms reserved for CGMC Fall Conference attendees at a discounted rate of $94 (plus tax). Call Arrowwood at 320-762-1124 by Nov. 1 to book a room under the CGMC’s block.

Note: There are plenty of rooms available at Arrowwood on the night of Nov. 15, but only a limited number of rooms are available on Nov. 14 (the night before the conference). In order to accommodate those who wish to come to Alexandria on Nov. 14 (and may be unable to stay at Arrowwood), we have reserved a small block of rooms for the CGMC at Hampton Inn & Suites in Alexandria. The cost is also $94. Call Hampton Inn at 320-763-3360 by Oct. 29 to make a reservation (rooms are available both Nov. 14 and Nov. 15).

QUESTIONS?
If you have any questions about the conference, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or (651) 259-1917.