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OUR OPINION: Heed Minnesotans' call to strongly support LGA

Memo to the Republican majority in the Minnesota House:

Strongly supporting Local Government Aid is a political winner for you. And that's true not only in rural Minnesota, but also in the state's metro areas; not only among supposedly "free spending" Democrats, but also among large numbers of Minnesota Republicans, too.

That's because Local Government Aid's revenue sharing does exactly what it is supposed to do: It helps cities and towns across Minnesota—even "property-tax poor" communities that lack rich businesses and expensive homes—maintain adequate police departments, fire departments, libraries and other public services.

So, when the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities makes its LGA recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature in a few months, House Republicans should listen.

Want more evidence?

Then here it is:

▇ "As mayors of cities in Greater Minnesota—and as Republicans—we have waited more than a year for the new House Republican majority to show leadership on a key issue affecting communities across Greater Minnesota: Local Government Aid," write Mayor Thomas Kuntz of Owatonna, Minn., and Mayor Randy Wilson of Glencoe, Minn., in their column on this page.

"But the only message House Republicans have sent on LGA has been far from a positive one. ... It's time for legislators who say they support LGA and Greater Minnesota communities to start showing it."

▇ "It's an amazing, even miraculous program, this Local Government Aid," the Crookston Times editorialized earlier this month.

"Take away the $3.5 million or so that Crookston, one of the least prosperous cities in the state when it comes to property wealth, is receiving this year in LGA, and there isn't a property tax increase big enough to help keep the city from essentially going belly-up. ...

"(Without LGA,) Crookston's operation would go up in smoke, in the form of enraged residents faced with a 100 percent property tax increase running through the streets with flaming torches."

▇ "LGA and its historic companion, the state's general education formula, were once called the Minnesota Miracle," the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis editorialized last week.

"LGA is still pretty miraculous. It keeps municipal services affordable in both big and small cities with a formula that favors those with low tax bases and/or high demand for services because of large daytime populations. ...

"LGA cuts were a recurring coping strategy for the state during the lean times of the past decade. Now that good times are back, LGA should be too. Its funding should be restored to 2002 levels, as the Senate's 2015 tax bill does."

▇ "Think about it this way. Fergus Falls has a population of 13,351, according to the 2013 census estimate," the Fergus Falls Daily Journal editorialized last month.

"But the census says the population swells each day by about 4,000 additional people because of the workforce. We have a city that must provide more services for guests than we have dwellers to pay for it. ...

"The only tax structure that offsets that imbalance is LGA. And with the state sitting on a $1 billion surplus, it makes sense to increase LGA, considering the years of cuts it suffered mostly in the 2000s.

"LGA works. Let's get it back to where it should be."

▇ "We also suggest the surplus be used to restore funding to Local Government Aid, which helps smaller cities that have infrastructure needs greater than what they could reasonably cover in property taxes," the Rochester Post-Bulletin editorialized Dec. 7.

"That way, smaller communities could dedicate part of their LGA allocation to transportation needs not met by state funding."

Columns and editorials aren't everything—but they're something. Editorials in particular often give voice to the moderate majority or even consensus view in a community.

And as the above columns and editorials show, LGA is that rare program that wins solid, statewide and bipartisan support. House Republicans should get that message and lend their own support to the vital and popular plan.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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