Cities Prep For Money Fight

A perennial Minnesota legislative debate about local government aid is expected in the 2010 session, or maybe earlier.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is making noise about a big fight, and many city officials are concerned that they cannot wait until lawmakers return to the Capitol on Feb. 4. A Wednesday budget forecast, which could show a new deficit of $1 billion, may lead to cuts in local governments’ December state paychecks.

“Repeated cuts to LGA have pushed our communities to the edge, and our ability to provide public safety, libraries, parks and other essential services at an affordable price to property taxpayers is suffering," coalition President timothy Strand, the St. Peter mayor, said. "On behalf of our residents, we are telling legislators and the governor that enough is enough.”

Local governments are scheduled to receive $412 million in December aid checks, one of two installments each year. A year ago, Pawlenty chopped those checks to help fill a deficit the state then faced. While he seems reluctant to do the same thing this December, it all depends on what Wednesday’s budget report says.

The Wednesday report will summarize the state economy, but government officials look harder at how much money they will have to spend. Or, in this case, it will be how much of a deficit they will face.

Some predict the report will show revenues falling up to $1 billion short of expectations. Early indications are that the news will not be good, given the fact that in the first four months of the current two-year budget, which started July 1, the state was $233 million short.

Regardless of the financial picture, the city coalition said Pawlenty’s unilateral cuts, known as unallotment, and other actions hurt them.

“Cities were disproportionately targeted for funding cuts in recent unallotment actions, and it’s time for the Legislature to stand up and right this wrong,” Strand said.

The coalition plans to ask lawmakers to return their aid to 2009 levels, adding $60 million to city spending.