By Dan Linehan
The Free Press
A Republican plan for local government aid spares most rural Minnesota cities from deep cuts in favor of eliminating aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.
But that’s just the first step, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said Tuesday during a stop in Mankato.
“If they get away with it, Mankato’s next, along with North Mankato and New Ulm,” he said. “They want to break this coalition.”
Local mayors joined Coleman in defending a statewide vision for local government aid — even if their own pieces of the pie are spared.
Of course, local mayors have been saying this for nearly a decade. This is Coleman’s third trip to Mankato to support local government aid.
The mayors took a slightly different angle Tuesday with the results from a poll of Greater Mankato Growth business members. Of the 124 respondents, 69 percent favored maintaining local government aid spending or increasing it.
Without these and other aids, these businesses’ taxes would certainly rise. Mankato’s levy would rise 60 percent if it lost all of its local government aid and levied it back. The city was budgeted to receive almost $8 million in local government aid in 2011, but is only planning to receive about $6.4 million due to expected cuts.
Mankato attorney Randy Berkland spoke to the business community’s interest in the program: “Having a vibrant city and surrounding vibrant small towns is good for our growth.”
“We recognize a sharing of the pain. Our concern is when the cutbacks are directed at one place,” Berkland said.
The message has been remarkably constant over the years: Leave our LGA alone, or at least don’t cut it more than other parts of the budget. But it has again and again proved to be a most tempting target.
North Mankato City Administrator Wendell Sande said the problem started in 2003 budgets after former Gov. Jesse Ventura approved tax cuts but vetoed tax increases. The resulting budget has put the state — as well as its cities, counties and school districts — on a budget see-saw, he said.
Coleman said the election of Gov. Mark Dayton shows that the public is ready for tax increases to be part of the solution. Of course, the public is speaking with something less than a unified voice with the election of a Republican Legislature.