With the federal government increasingly dysfunctional and state political parties often taking the lead from their federal counterparts, the government that works best in the future may be the city.
So Gov. Tim Walz’s plan to increase local government aid by $30 million, bringing it back to the level of 2002 is a good down payment to empower the cities delivering goods and services to the people who can hold them most accountable.
Walz confirmed he is behind the plan for making the cities whole on getting the level of aid they received 17 years ago but also urged them to use their loud “choir voices” to convince other legislators.
City leaders told the Star Tribune the amount cities have had to get from property taxpayers ever since 2002 has risen by 123 percent. Many outstate cities like Bemidji used to get nearly half of their funding from local government aid but now get about a fourth of it from the state.
The program was started back in 1971 to help reduce property tax burdens to cities and particularly cities in outstate Minnesota that don’t have large property tax bases to draw upon.
Cities don’t really have a choice when it comes to funding basic services. They have to plow roads and treat wastewater whatever their population. The $30 million increase Walz and the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities are requesting would amount to about a 5.5 percent increase over last year’s $535 million.
And the proposal should have bipartisan support at the Legislature. Last year, Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, proposed raising aid to the level of 2002, but it got nowhere with Republicans in control of the Legislature.
The Local Government Aid program over the years has helped create prosperity in Minnesota big cities and small towns, giving residents a choice of reasonable and stable places to live. The quality of life has eroded since 2002 when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut local government aid due to state budget deficits.
It’s long past time the funding was restored. Local governments are generally efficient and attuned to local needs. As Walz said: “The closer you get to the decisionmaking of the people, sometimes you get better results.”
We urge the Legislature to approve Walz’s proposal for restoring government aid.