WORTHINGTON - Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle traveled to the state Capitol on Wednesday to attend Legislative Action Day, an event hosted by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Mayors, city council members and city planners from around the state were invited to meet with and hear from their state legislators about policy affecting local communities. Kuhle identified several legislative priorities that will impact Worthington and other southwest Minnesota communities.
Child care remains a consistent concern statewide, as demand is growing faster than supply. Kuhle learned Wednesday that state legislators have begun a bipartisan initiative with a two-pronged approach - first, legislators want to reconsider regulations now in place that might discourage people from opening childcare facilities; and second, they’d like to start a grant program to help with start-up costs of daycare construction.
Another state priority is local government aid (LGA). These funds come from the state to help satisfy “unmet needs” and are determined by population, employment rate and housing age and availability.
Gov. Tim Walz is proposing a plan to increase LGA by $30.5 million, restoring funding to its pre-2002 peak. If this action is approved, it stands to significantly impact local communities.
Kuhle said that in Worthington, LGA accounts for about half of the annual budget and helps keep property taxes low. A boost to that funding could reduce local property taxes and/or raise the city budget.
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities credits District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, as a strong advocate for LGA.
Public transportation also presents a growing need in small communities. The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities tweeted during the Legislative Action Day presentation, “Small cities need a sustainable city street program and larger cities need additional support.”
On the issue of transportation, there is a “wide gap between parties,” Kuhle said.
“There needs to be a lot of compromise on both sides, he added, nothing that he hopes the Republican Senate and the Democratic House can work together to solve the problem.
Walz, meanwhile, had his own take on transportation on Wednesday.
“The problem with using surplus for things like transportation is that it doesn’t prepare you for the future where there might be downturns,” Walz said. The governor instead proposes making a long-term plan for improving public transportation statewide, particularly in smaller communities.
Additionally, Worthington has a local option sales tax pending approval from the state. Worthington voted in November in favor of the tax to fund projects like that include aquatic center, lake water quality, the 10th street pavilion and more, and would collect more than $20 million. However, the measure must be approved by the state legislature before going into effect. The House of Representatives Taxes Committee, a committee District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, is assigned to, is responsible for considering the measure’s approval.
Kuhle met with the chair of the committee, Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, as part of the Legislative Action Day agenda. Marquart said that about 20 Minnesota communities passed local option sales tax referendums in November. That may be a high number, but Marquart does not see it as an obstacle to Worthington’s referendum being approved.
Since the state is working to impose a moratorium on the number of such referendums that can be approved, Marquart’s confidence is good news, Kuhle said.
Overall, Kuhle’s experience left him hopeful. He was particularly impressed by Gov. Walz.
“He is going to be more conciliatory and is going to work to compromise with both sides of the aisle,” Kuhle predicted.