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Cities working on LGA proposal

ST. PAUL -- City leaders are working on a proposal to fund continued local government aid.

Since 2003, cities have complained that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislators cut state payments to them when the state budget needed to be balanced. Next week, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities will draw up a way to raise revenue to keep money flowing to cities.

Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren said among the ideas being floated is extending the sales tax to services such as hair cuts and tattoos. That alone could raise $88 million a year, he added.

City leaders including Ahlgren went in front of reporters in the Minnesota Capitol Wednesday, making pleas like they have for years about local government aid's importance.

They presented a city survey that showed 65 percent of cities have cut back on street maintenance since aid cuts began in 2003. Nearly half cut park and recreation programs, the survey, showed and about 40 percent cut public safety programs and swimming pool hours.

Ahlgren and Albert Lea Mayor Michael Murtaugh said libraries have been especially hard hit by state cuts, at a time when more people are using library computers to seek jobs.

The survey showed that 69 percent of cities have reduced workforces.

Murtaugh said many cities have worked to reduce their reliance on state aid. His community, for instance, used to get 60 percent of its revenue from local government aid, but now gets 34 percent. At the same time, local property taxes doubled.

Algren said that Cloquet officials fear they may need to do something new: "We are for the first time ever looking at a layoff."

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.