BEMIDJI-While the 2019 state legislative session will see a different governor and plenty of new faces in the House, one of the top priorities for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities remains the same.
As has been the case with recent years, the coalition is once again looking to the Legislature for a boost in Local Government Aid, or LGA. The funding distributed to communities by the state government on an annual basis is designed to help cities that have greater needs than what can reasonably be covered by way of property taxes.
According to a press release from the coalition, members are looking forward to working with Governor-elect Tim Walz, as he has roots outside of the metro area and a Republican-controlled Senate with rural members, where LGA is mostly distributed.
"We have a governor-elect who campaigned on increasing LGA and a rural Republican majority in the Senate," Coalition Executive Director Bradley Peterson said. "With those in place, and a Democratic House, we feel we can get some traction, especially with LGA. We want that to hit a sweet spot from a policy perspective."
The current appropriation for LGA is about $534 million per year, Peterson said, with roughly 65 percent dedicated to Greater Minnesota and 35 percent toward metro communities. The city of Bemidji received $3.2 million in LGA in 2016.
The proposal from the coalition is to boost the amount to $565 million, returning the LGA amount to where it was in 2002.
"For our proposal, based on our analysis, it would mean about a $158,000 increase in LGA, or 4.7 percent, in Bemidji," Peterson said. "For a lot of communities, this helps keep them ahead of inflation. Cities also rely on those increases to buy new equipment or work on employee benefits. Overall, though, it helps restrain increases in property taxes."
In addition to an increase, the coalition is also advocating for a permanent inflationary increase for LGA to become law.
"LGA is a great example of a program that bridges the divide between large cities like St. Paul and small ones like St. Charles," Coalition Vice President and Willmar City Councilor Audrey Nelsen said in the release. "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."
Other priorities the coalition is planning to push in 2019 include finding solutions to daycare shortages and funding water infrastructure projects. The latter, Peterson said, is based on a 2017 report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency identifying a need of $5 billion over the next 20 years in wastewater infrastructure improvements.
"This year, we're seeking $128 million for the program, run through the Public Utilities Authority, which is for wastewater upgrades and to help build new plants and respond to new regulations."
The other top priority for the coalition is based on what members heard in visits over the summer and fall.
"Almost everywhere we went, when we talked about the shortage of daycare, you'd see nodding heads around the table. I think city leaders have come to see this shortage as something that's a barrier," Peterson said. "It's an issue that's really complex, and there are a lot of different angles to the problem. Everything from wages to the regulatory environment."
Walz will be sworn in as Minnesota's 41st Governor on Jan. 7 and the Legislature will begin its 2019 session on Jan. 8.