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As others see it: A snub of rural cities

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer is being chastised for not attending a forum of major governor's candidates involving rural cities -- and rightly so.

By refusing the invite of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Rep. Emmer falls into the same category as fellow GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who went head-to-head with the Coalition over Local Government Aid.

After candidate Pawlenty appeared before the group eight years ago, he pledged support for current LGA levels and called it very important to local government core services. Once in office, Gov. Pawlenty has tried all he can to eliminate the program and force local property taxes to rise to make up the difference.

The idea of LGA is to help property-poor cities pay for core services without driving city residents out of their homes.

Candidate Emmer has refused to join Democrat Mark Dayton and Independence Party Tom Horner in a discussion of rural issues affecting cities and LGA, saying he has other commitments. Candidates were informed about the annual CGMC conference months ago, so it appears Rep. Emmer had no intention of coming into the lion's den.

While saying he is not out to eliminate LGA, he is out to drastically change it. He would reduce the base level of LGA to 40 percent of its 2009 level, and then give it to county commissioners to dole out to cities. While a 60 percent cut isn't eliminating the program, it puts a huge dent in it -- one that would shift to property taxes. And having commissioners determine how much aid cities receive is a system potentially ripe for politics.

By not coming to the CGMC governor's forum, Rep. Emmer shows disregard for the state's rural and most often poorest cities, including Bemidji, and their needs. We wonder how quickly he'd sign up for a forum if it were the Greater Twin Cities Suburbs Coalition, where the wealth is.

"There is no better opportunity to explain why you will be a champion for rural Minnesota than by debating the other candidates for governor in front of the mayors, city council members, and city staff that make up the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities," CGMC President and St. Peter Mayor Timothy Strand said. "That is why we are disheartened that Rep. Emmer has declined this opportunity. .... We also hope Rep. Emmer reevaluates the message that his absence at this critical forum sends to greater Minnesota communities."

Bemidji Pioneer