It’s time Greater Minnesota stood up for LGA

Published 11:50 am Tuesday, March 30, 2010

As a former Republican legislator from Greater Minnesota, it pains me to see polarization at the state Capitol having such a profound command over current outstate legislators’ actions. These days, being an obstructionist is more celebrated than being a solution-maker, and towing the party line — no matter the cost to constituents — is sadly preferred to standing up for local families and businesses.

With Minnesota facing an ongoing budget mess, it’s time for all state lawmakers — but particularly those from Greater Minnesota — to face the realities of the times and do what’s best for the economic health of their neighbors and small businesses back home.

In my view, this means Greater Minnesota legislators from both sides of the aisle must be loud, bold and brave in their support of the local government aid program, even if it means new revenue is needed. Rural legislators need to understand that cuts in LGA mean property tax increases, and that there are better ways to raise revenue without disproportionally burdening greater Minnesota home and business owners.

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During my political career, I made decisions that were not always popular with party leaders but were in the best interest of the residents and communities in my district.

It’s time for Greater Minnesota legislators to take a similar stance on LGA. The LGA program was created with the belief that all Minnesotans — regardless of the property tax wealth of their community — deserve public safety, fire protection, safe roads in the winter, and access to quality-of-life services such as libraries and parks. Sixty-five percent of the LGA program funding goes to Greater Minnesota because most of our communities are not property tax wealthy, and without LGA, our property tax rates would spike dramatically to pay for the essential services we depend on.

In recent years, LGA has been sliced repeatedly, and as a result, many home and business owners have seen their property tax bills skyrocket.

In fact, property taxes have increased over 60 percent statewide since 2002 due to LGA cuts at the state level. There are some who would rather attribute this increase in property taxes to the “unbridled spending” of local officials, which I just can’t let stand; revenues available for local spending have actually decreased 15.7 percent between 2002 and 2008, while at the same time, the cost of health care, fuel, and road construction have all ballooned.

It’s time for the diversions, inaction, and political rhetoric to stop. While state lawmakers play a dangerous game of chicken in St. Paul, Greater Minnesota communities are laying off public safety personnel, closing libraries early, and leaving roads unplowed. Our communities can no longer bear the brunt of this gridlock.

In the long-term, cutting essential services and increasing property taxes will have a devastating effect on the ability of our communities to grow out of this recession. When new businesses scout locations to set up shop, they demand a high level of city services and property tax affordability that many Greater Minnesota communities will not be able to provide without LGA support. And without the promise of jobs and a strong community to live in, Greater Minnesota’s best asset — our young people — will have few reasons to stay in town.

Greater Minnesota’s future doesn’t have to be like this. By setting aside party differences and uniting around common-sense policy, our Greater Minnesota legislators have the most influence over LGA and the economic health of our communities. Political courage may be out of vogue at the Capitol, but we have high hopes that Greater Minnesota lawmakers can put the needs of their constituents before the orders of their party.

Dan Dorman is the executive director of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency and is a former state representative for District 27A.