HF1608, a bill introduced by Moorhead freshman Democrat Ben Lien, has received bipartisan support from his colleagues in the house and praise from greater Minnesota.
The Pioneer Press's Megan Boldt reports in Minnesota Legislature: Local government aid bill has metro, outstate fans:
Cities in the Twin Cities metro and rural Minnesota have signed on to a bill that would change the way local government aid is distributed.
Proponents say the proposal simplifies the funding formula, making it more stable for cities and easier for people to understand. It also makes sure more money goes to cities that have a greater need for property tax relief. Older, inner-ring suburbs would benefit the most. These cities are fully developed and can't easily generate new revenue in the way that growing suburbs do.
Tim Pugmire has more in Bill would retool local aid formula, at Minnesota Public Radio:
The proposed simplification of the Local Government Aid (LGA) distribution formula is supported by leaders in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and in rural Minnesota. Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, is the bill's chief author. Lien said cities of all sizes are backing the proposal because it would make LGA more predictable from year to year by factoring in inflation.
"It's not just a one-size-fits-all formula for LGA," Lien said. "It takes into account different need factors based on different size cities. So it's going to be much more customizable, I guess, to different size cities."
Lien said his bill is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the House Property Tax Division.
Forum Communications Capitol Chatter political reporter Don Davis writes:
With the support of urban, suburban and greater Minnesota cities, the bill by Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, removes arcane sections of the LGA formula such as how many accidents occur in a city. Backers of the Lien bill also say it would make it easier for cities to predict how much money they can expect.
The simplified formula is separate from a Gov. Mark Dayton proposal to add $80 million to the aid the state pays to cities.
“Over the last several years the underfunding of the LGA program has hobbled its effectiveness in delivering property tax relief to communities across the state,” said President Bruce Ahlgren of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and Cloquet mayor.
Ahlgren said legislators should notice the support from cities of all types.
“Everyone had to come in with realistic expectations,” the mayor said. “While no one walked away with everything they wanted, everyone is pleased that we have a framework for a stable and predictable program into the future.” . . .
Rural Republican legislators have signed on to the bill and small town leaders are signaling support. Josh Moniz reports in Small gains for New Ulm under proposed LGA revision at the New Ulm Journal:
Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead) introduced the bill Monday, along with numerous co-authors that including Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and Rep. Clark Johnson (DFL-N. Mankato). . . .
The City of New Ulm is poised to receive a modest LGA increase that will be followed by slow, small increases over the subsequent year.
City Manager Brian Gramentz said the City still approves of the proposal, even if it was hoping for more funding to offset years of cuts.
"The key is it makes our funding stable," said Gramentz, "Staying flat is always better than going down."
At the PiPress, Boldt notes Torkelson's reasons for signing on:
But Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said local government aid is supposed to help cities that typically would have a difficult time providing essential services to residents at a reasonable cost. He represents 22 cities, and almost all rely on local government aid.
"At first blush, it's much better than what the governor originally proposed," Torkelson said. "It really does make it more fair and equitable."
Preston Republican lawmaker Greg Davids tells MPR:
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he signed on as a co-author to the bill because he believes it will begin a much needed debate.
"The way the bill is written right now, is that the way it stays? I really don't know," Davids said. "But I do think we need this debate, and having metro Democrats, rural Republicans, I think, is very significant. Because everyone that looks at the LGA formula, as I did as tax chair the last two years, knows that we need to try and update it, modernize it and make it more efficient for today's use."
Tom Dennis at the Grand Forks Herald is impressed, writing the paper's signed editorial, Local Government Aid poised for welcome return:
[O]n Monday, LGA got another important boost, as a team of lawmakers announced a bipartisan plan to simplify and restructure LGA.
Good news for Local Government Aid, of course, is good news for northwestern Minnesota, where a significant share of many cities’ budgets comes from the program. Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, is among the region’s lawmakers who recognize this importance and have signed on to the new reform.
“Today at the Minnesota State Capitol, legislation was introduced which outlines an agreement between Minneapolis, St. Paul, suburban and Greater Minnesota cities on a distribution formula for Local Government Aid, long a contentious issue between metro and rural interest groups at the Capitol,” the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities announced Monday.. . .
But the past decade’s budget deficits meant LGA took shocking hits. The result has been higher property taxes, weaker services — and, probably not coincidentally, Democratic majorities in the Legislature, as voters rebelled against Republicans’ seeming hostility to good-government programs such as LGA.
Now, the announcement that a bipartisan group of metro and rural lawmakers has reached agreement suggests LGA is coming back. That’s great news. Since the 1970s, LGA has helped rural Minnesota communities keep their attractiveness and charm. Here’s hoping the Legislature acknowledges this role, recognizes LGA’s usefulness and returns to Minnesota’s traditionally strong support.
With this bill, Lien joins the ranks of freshman legislators--Matt Schmit comes to mind in the Senate--who are introducing strong legislative relief for vexsome issues.
Photo: Representative Ben Lien.
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