Column: Historic LGA deal will strengthen our communities
CLOQUET -- There is an historic moment at hand for Greater Minnesota. After a decade of continued cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA) that weakened communities and resulted in higher property taxes, fewer services, eroding infrastructure and laid-off police and firefighters, there is now a real and significant opportunity to reform the LGA program in a way that will bring long-lasting stability and support to communities across the state.
The LGA program is part of a cycle of prosperity that helps cities provide a platform of services such as public safety and infrastructure upon which all sorts of activities -- including business, manufacturing, education, healthcare and charitable undertakings -- rely. However, the cuts, freezes and chronic underfunding of the LGA program has bred frustration and distrust on the part of city officials across the state and made local budgeting extremely difficult. The LGA program clearly needed a reboot.
Governor Dayton understood the important role of LGA and tackled this reform effort head-on. He convened a group of 15 mayors from across the state to start a discussion about strengthening the LGA program. Based on the meetings of these mayors, Gov. Dayton made a recommitment to the LGA program by recommending an $80 million increase and new funding formula in his budget proposal.
The Minnesota House of Representatives then took up the challenge of reform by convening a working group of legislators and organizations representing cities across the state -- including the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, League of Minnesota Cities, metro cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. This group met regularly for several weeks, hashing though all kinds of ideas for making the program simpler, more stable, more inclusive of suburban communities and more predictable for the city officials who work hard to set a long-term fiscal course for their cities.
The Legislature is now poised to approve this new LGA funding plan and the $80 million increase in funding recommended by the governor. There are many reasons for our state leaders to embrace this plan. It will boost cities across the state and provide much-needed property tax relief, an opportunity to re-invest in our infrastructure, and shore up the city services that businesses and homeowners rely on.
This new, reformed LGA formula is also a good example of what can be accomplished when those with a strong will to make something better roll up their sleeves, do their homework and work collaboratively with those impacted to achieve a positive outcome. Perhaps this model of working together can be an example for other parts of state government.
The Legislature needs to seize this historic opportunity. If enacted into law, the long-lasting positive impacts of this LGA program reform upon the communities, businesses and residents of Greater Minnesota will be the great legacy of Gov. Dayton and the 2013 Legislature.
Bruce Ahlgren is president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and mayor of Cloquet.