Guest Opinion: Republican Mayors - Minnesota House Republicans need to reverse course and support LGA
As 2015 winds down and we prepare to welcome a new year and a new legislative session, the time has come for us to speak out. As mayors of cities in greater Minnesota—and as Republicans—we have waited more than a year for the new House Republican majority to show leadership on a key issue affecting communities across greater Minnesota: Local Government Aid (LGA).
However, the only message House Republicans have sent on LGA has been far from a positive one. Last spring, the House—with support from every rural Republican—passed a tax bill that would reduce funding for the LGA program by $84 million. This is in stark contrast to the Senate's version of the tax bill, which includes a $45.5 million increase in LGA funding—the amount needed to get the LGA program back to its 2002 benchmark level.
Minnesota had a nearly $2 billion surplus last session (and it was recently announced that the current surplus remains just as high), which makes it all the more unbelievable that House Republicans voted to cut funding for a program that is the cornerstone of many greater Minnesota cities. The House Republicans' stance is wrong for LGA and wrong for Minnesota.
We thought the days of LGA being a political football were behind us. As rural mayors and Republicans ourselves, we can't fathom why the House would threaten the LGA program like this. LGA helps cities pay for essential services like police and fire protection and street repairs, as well as important quality-of-life amenities like parks and libraries. For many greater Minnesota cities, LGA is the difference between being a thriving attractive community and being a hollowed out ghost town.
While cutting $84 million out of the LGA program when Minnesota has a significant budget surplus is unjustifiable in its own right, the House's method of doing so is downright dangerous to the future of the entire program.
The proposed $84 million in cuts are targeted solely at the "first class" cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. The House GOP's argument for the cuts is that LGA "was never intended" for Minneapolis and St. Paul, that they get "too much" LGA and that they don't need it because of their large tax bases.
These arguments are completely unfounded. The original 1971 statute on LGA specifically refers to how Minneapolis and St. Paul's share of aid is calculated. Since the beginning of the program, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth have received a fair share of LGA funding under a formula that is based on a city's need and tax base. In fact, the percentage share of LGA going to those cities has actually decreased in recent years.
You may be wondering why two mayors from greater Minnesota are defending Minneapolis and St. Paul. Shouldn't we be happy that the House is going after the giants rather than us little guys? The fact is that if successful, the House's attack on LGA severely undermines a program that is vital to many greater Minnesota communities. If the House GOP succeeds in cutting LGA from the first-class cities, what's to stop our cities from being on the chopping block next?
We are given hope by the fact that there is still time for the House Republicans to change direction on LGA. They have six months, from now until the end of the legislative session, to show their support for Minnesota cities and the families and businesses who reside in them. It's time for legislators who say they support LGA and greater Minnesota communities to start showing it.
Thomas Kuntz is mayor of Owatonna and Randy Wilson is mayor of Glencoe. They both serve on the Board of Directors for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.