BEMIDJI -- Priorities for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities for the 2018 Minnesota legislative session that starts next week were detailed in a teleconference Thursday.

As with 2017, the CGMC is again pushing for an increase in the amount of funding appropriated for the Local Government Aid program. In the 2017 session, the Legislature passed a tax bill including a $15 million increase in LGA, bringing the appropriation to $534.4 million.

However, CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson said legislators can take another step this year.

“Last year, the Legislature did make some modest progress, including LGA. Our concern, though, is that the Legislature will rest on their laurels and say ‘we’ve taken care of those issues,’” Peterson said. “Since we know there will be a tax bill to conform with federal tax reform, we need to keep moving forward with progress on LGA. The CGMC is going to be seeking an increase of $30.5 million to get it back to its 2002 level, the high water mark of the program.”

Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson
To better illustrate the impact of Local Government Aid has on a city, CGMC Vice President and Bemidji City Council member Ron Johnson spoke on the issue.

“LGA is especially important to Bemidji because nearly half of our property in the city is tax exempt, 49 percent to be exact. The city is also growing, and as a result, has growing needs,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen the effect the cuts on LGA have had on our community. It started with our parks, we started cutting a lot of care to our parks and some went into disrepair. It also reduced our staff and we did a lot of consolidation.

“We also put off what we could with our capital investment,” Johnson said. “We squeezed more years out of our police cars and street sweepers. In 2017, we did receive the increase in LGA and we used that to lower our levy 2 percent. If we could get another increase, we are hoping to restore our community development position.”

Along with the LGA, the CGMC will also push the Legislature for infrastructure funding this year. In total, the CGMC is advocating for $167 million in bonding for state grant and loan programs to help cities with water infrastructure. The effort comes from cities needing to replace aging infrastructure and meet new water quality regulations.

For city streets, the CGMC is seeking $50 million from the Legislature, with the amount divided equally between cities with populations over and under 5,000. Peterson also said Thursday that while there has been discussion of a federal infrastructure bill, the state needs to take action regardless.

“I haven’t dug in too deep on the federal infrastructure proposal. But, I think the state of Minnesota needs to really be focused on our needs,” Peterson said. “With all the things that need to be built and rebuilt across the country, the scope they’re talking about probably doesn’t go far enough. I don’t think we can count on the federal government, if we’re waiting for the federal government, we may be waiting too long.”

Another issue the CGMC is focused on this session is child care. In a press statement, the CGMC said it will support legislation this session that provides funding to the state’s initiative foundations to encourage more in-home child care providers.

The 2018 legislative session starts Tuesday, Feb. 20, in St. Paul.