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Ask governor candidates to support LGA

After a long winter, baseball season is finally here, families are firing up their barbeques, and farmers are in the field. Summer isn't far away, and neither is the important decision of electing Minnesota's next governor.

As a season of change is upon us and we inch closer to new state leadership, it is critical that the next governor be a supporter of strong local communities. The next governor must support Local Government Aid.

Neither one of us has endorsed a candidate for governor, but before we do, we are going to ask them where they stand on Local Government Aid. We hope all Minnesotans who value strong, rural communities do the same.

Local Government Aid is a program that started nearly 40 years ago and is grounded in the principal that all communities have a right to the same basic level of services, regardless of their property tax wealth. LGA has been instrumental in keeping property taxes down and funding the services all communities need -- police, fire protection, parks, airports and street maintenance. In short, the state-local partnership of LGA has kept Minnesota communities strong, vibrant places to live and work. LGA is a key piece of the Minnesota Miracle, which has served our state well.

The next governor will make key policy decisions that will in some cases determine if communities can even keep firefighters on staff, streets maintained, or parks mowed. With Minnesota having faced repeated budget deficits over the past decade, state aid to cities has been cut by just over $1 billion cumulatively since 2002. As a result, property taxes have increased over 60 percent statewide in the same time period and services have been slashed.

Cities recognize the challenges that state lawmakers have faced over the past years due to the ongoing budget deficits. We also recognize that cities have had to share in the pain along with everyone else, and we have found ways to save money by streamlining services and developing partnerships to deliver programs at lower costs.

But cities are now well past the point of saving money around the edges; we are at the point where if we squeeze any harder, we will break the foundation that makes our communities attractive and affordable places to live and do business.

If we are forced to increase property taxes higher, we will simply drive businesses and families out of our communities. At the same time, if we are forced to make deeper service cuts to street maintenance, parks, police and fire protection, how can we attract businesses and families to our communities in the first place?

As the election season looms, we are calling on all Minnesotans -- Democrats, Republicans and Independents -- to meet the candidates, ask them what their plans are for LGA, and how they intend to keep property taxes low and fund police, fire, streets and core services.

The next four years will be a critical time for rural communities across the state. It very well might be the season that determines our fate. We hope that Minnesotans ask questions and demand answers from the candidates as this important decision nears.

Mark Voxland is mayor of Moorhead and Dan Ness is mayor of Alexandria.