A guest editorial - Mankato Free Press: Candidates should address LGA issuesSmall-town mayors often don’t ask for much, and when a group of them last week held meetings and press conferences around the state asking for tax fairness, it didn’t seem like an unreasonable request.
Small-town mayors often don’t ask for much, and when a group of them last week held meetings and press conferences around the state asking for tax fairness, it didn’t seem like an unreasonable request.
Small-town mayors, as part of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, called on the numerous candidates for governor to say how they stand on funding local government aid, the longtime bipartisan Minnesota policy of equaling out taxation among rich and poor communities.
The coalition shouldn’t stop at gubernatorial candidates, however. There are plenty of representatives in outstate Minnesota who need to answer for the decimation they’ve brought on small towns through their votes on uneven government aid cuts. Local government aid – LGA – isn’t a handout. It simply is a way of evening out property tax burdens among large and small cities, so businesses and residents can expect basic services at reasonable property tax rates. It also evens out large disparities that can occur when one city has a lot of property, like private and public colleges, that is exempt from property taxes.
But in recent years, the small towns say they have been unfairly targeted, taking more than their fair share of budget cuts since 2003. The facts are on their side; very few credible individuals dispute that. When the state ran into multi-billion deficits, the small towns were willing to take their hits along with everyone else.
Unfortunately, the property tax breaks given to Twin Cities suburbs were not cut proportionately. An amendment to even out the cuts among all cities, offered by Representative Dan Dorman, a Republican from Albert Lea, failed, with several of his Republican colleagues voting against him.
The coalition points out Governor Tim Pawlenty, when he was candidate Pawlenty, agreed that cuts to local government aid would increase local property taxes. The Web video that pushes their cause has Pawlenty on tape conceding the connection between lower LGA and higher property taxes. (It can be viewed at www.thanklga.org.)
The governor has since resorted to calling small town mayors greedy and inefficient. So, it’s certainly not unreasonable for the cities to want current candidates to be on record once again. Hopefully, they’ll be able to stick to their campaign positions a little more than Pawlenty did.
One can argue whether the state should be “subsidizing” small towns, or whether they are being excessive with taxpayer dollars. But those who do so, best come prepared with facts. The Coalition research shows cities have tightened their belts, cutting per capita revenue 12 percent from 2002 to 2009, a level of cuts much deeper than counties, school districts or the state itself. Local government aid is down 44 percent from 2002 to 2009, while total property taxes have gone up 64 percent, despite huge cuts in police, fire and basic public services in the small cities.
Which brings up the main point the candidates should answer: Who should pay the rising cost of basic services in Minnesota? Should the burden be shared by all, or should we put that burden on businesses and property owners on fixed incomes, in towns that may have a university exempt from property tax? Minnesota is blessed with a vibrant small town economy and way of life. Our leaders don’t seem to value that very much right now.
Editor’s note: This editorial was printed in the September 26 Mankato Free Press, www.mankatofreepress.com.
Local government aid to Alexandria has created significant budget “challenges” for the city over the years. The amount the city was certified or expected to receive from the state was changed four times in the last 10 years after the city had already set its budget. The amount it expects to receive in 2010, based on the governor’s “unallotment” plan, is 28 percent less than previously promised and 26 percent less than the amount it received in 2000. Here are Alexandria’s LGA amounts over the last decade: 2000 – $1,644,162, 2001 – $1,733,488, 2002 – $1,655,482, 2003 – $1,417,590 (it had been certified to receive $1,791,628), 2004 – $1,417,590, 2005 – $1,484,263, 2006 – $1,791,525, 2007 – $1,638,757, 2008 – $1,412,407 (it had been certified to receive $1,638,757), 2009 – $1,515,811 (it had been certified to receive $1,925,262) and 2010 – $1,212,962 (it had been certified to receive $1,689,877).