Local government aid works
Nonmetro Minnesota is getting a little tired of the view from the back burner when it comes to the Minnesota Republican stance on local government aid (LGA). And rightly so. Despite increases to the program under Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leadership in 2013, these programs have not kept pace with even the most modest inflation factors and remain stagnant at levels last seen in the early 2000s.
Many cities, Minneapolis, Duluth and St. Paul included, rely on this partnership with the rest of the state to help keep local property taxes low. In 2013 I was part of a group that worked to reform this formula, bringing much-needed stability to cities all across Minnesota. Here in Duluth, LGA makes up a significant portion of the general fund budget and we would suffer significant property tax increases if this program were reduced.
And reduce is exactly what the House Republicans attempted to do during the 2015 legislative session. A bill was pushed by Republican leadership that would have stripped aid from three of the four largest cities, forcing major property tax increases on nearly half of Minnesota's population.
Thankfully, nonmetro Minnesota cities didn't fall for this and pushed back loudly, calling out the Republicans for spreading myths about LGA. Mayors from all over rural Minnesota have stood up and called for funding the program properly rather than destroying it. They understand the integrity of the program and also realize the complicated structures of tax bases and property tax realities within communities.
By the end of 2015, no tax bill was passed. The outlook for one to pass in 2016 is not incredibly bright, either. The good news about having a budget surplus is that no tax bill necessarily has to pass. The sad news is we have a surplus that could be invested into education, transportation, public safety and LGA. Instead, we will be focused on a bonding bill which will create jobs and repair critical infrastructure.
But rest assured, if needed, we will continue our fight for LGA. When we return in 2017, we will continue our efforts to keep local property taxes as low as possible.
Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, is the Minnesota state representative for District 7B.