Pawlenty Attacks Bemidji

Gov. Tim Pawlenty made some of his strongest statements yet against local government aid when he blasted Bemidji for raising its property tax levy.

On his weekly radio show, Pawlenty used that as an example of cities improperly blaming property tax increases on state aid cuts

The Republican governor, often attacked by Democrats for forcing up property taxes, called Bemidji "a government town in a lot of respects."

He said the city’s tax levy rose $2.4 million in 2009, but state aid fell just $189.
Brain McClung, Pawlenty’s deputy chief of staff, said state aid was designed to help cities lacking enough property to tax to provide adequate services.

"How did the program get so far away from its original intent?" McClung asked.

Pawlenty was critical of Bemidji’s contract talks, as he has been with other governments and schools. "They gave away significant wage increases and benefit increases as well at a time when those in the private sector are not doing so well."

Cities have lobbied hard to maintain local government aid and other programs, saying that as the state cuts those payments local governments have no choice but to raise property taxes. City leaders say they have trimmed everything they can and in order to maintain adequate services, especially police and fire protection, they either need continued state support or to raise local taxes.

Pawlenty’s comment could hint at more local cuts this year as he and legislators debate how to fix a badly out of balance state budget.