The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities has launched an effort it hopes will galvanize the public to force gubernatorial candidates to be up front on their feelings regarding Local Government Aid.
Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann was joined in a Coalition press conference Friday at Bemidji City Hall by Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll, who serves on the Coalition's board of directors.
Both discussed how the decrease in LGA throughout the last several years has led to corresponding increases to local property taxes.
"(Minnesotans) know LGA pays for police officers, firefighters and librarians, and keeps property taxes low," Carroll said.
Lehmann said the loss in LGA contributed to Bemidji's decision to discontinue its community development director position by the end of this year.
Bemidji has lost just more than $1 million in the last two years due to LGA cuts.
The Coalition, which represents nearly 80 out-state cities, on Thursday officially launched its Thank LGA effort, in which its members will travel the state calling for gubernatorial candidates to address LGA.
A Web site has been established at ThankLGA.org where the public can view an advertisement that features Gov. Tim Pawlenty stating in August 2002 that he understood that a decrease in LGA would lead to higher property taxes.
"You can't run around the state saying 'I'm not going to increase taxes and then cut LGA in a way that drives up property taxes,'" Pawlenty is shown saying on Aug. 1, 2002. "I understand that."
The advertisement then goes on to state that in the last seven years - during Pawlenty's tenure as governor - LGA has been cut more than $732 million while property taxes have increase more than 64 percent.
Lehmann said the Coalition has been trying for the last seven years to hold Pawlenty to his pre-election statements regarding LGA.
"But it's been a target every time he's been faced with a major budget crunch," Lehmann said.
For the 2010 election, the Coalition is hoping the public attends candidate forums, writes letters and contacts the gubernatorial candidates directly to hear their stances on LGA.
"This is about the future of Minnesota," Carroll said. "This is the Minnesota economy. We can't have a strong Minnesota with weak regional centers throughout the state."
Glen Fladeboe, senior media adviser with the Coalition, said the Coalition would not endorse a candidate for governor, but would meet with candidates and develop comparisons based on the LGA positions.
"This is an exciting, but very, very serious time for Minnesota cities," Fladeboe said.