An article in the December 3 edition of the Star Tribune titled "Cities wean themselves from state aid" raises some important questions about the current and future relationship between the state and its cities.
Without a doubt, state government has been an unpredictable partner, leading many local officials to contemplate doing business without its assistance. It is undeniable that a lack of trust in state government, the draining of city reserves, fewer local services and higher property taxes, have been the results of the state's 10-year retreat from its commitment to the local government aid program.
As Gov. Mark Dayton and a new Legislature survey the scene, they must ask if the history of the last 10 years is a firm foundation upon which to build a prosperous state? Clearly, the answer is no.
How do we create a prosperous Minnesota? The keys are found in thriving communities, making a strong partnership between the state and its cities essential. The LGA program contributes to a cycle of prosperity for all Minnesotans.
It works like this. Cities provide clean water, sewers, roads, public safety, parks, libraries and other services, without which no business or resident would locate there. In turn, these businesses produce and sell goods and services and hire people. Residents raise families and buy stuff. From this economic activity, businesses and citizens pay a variety of state taxes. The state then uses this revenue to pay for the state programs we all rely on.
To ensure that this cycle stays strong, the state provides aid to cities if a city's property tax base is not adequate to provide infrastructure and needed city services at a reasonable property tax rate. And so, the cycle continues, leading to vitality and economic growth for cities and the state as a whole.
We must also note that no two communities are alike. The ability of one community to "wean" itself off LGA does not reflect on any other community's ability (or desire) to do so. Even as we reframe the state and local partnership, we should remember that there are many rural and metro communities whose needs are not being met currently and whose businesses and residents would benefit greatly from a reformed and refocused LGA program.
Further, just because the state has been an unreliable partner and has not adequately funded the LGA program, it does not mean it isn't important, effective and necessary.
Rather, it means that the partnership must be renewed. In the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers and the governor should work earnestly to restore LGA funding and reform the LGA distribution formula in a fair way. Doing so will allow cities to provide quality services without a crushing property tax burden, continuing the cycle of prosperity that served our state well for most of the past 40 years.
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