ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Mayors from smaller cities outside the Twin Cities metro area traveled to the State Capitol Wednesday to press lawmakers to act on transportation, public works bonding and direct aid to communities.
"We want to see something happen," Le Sueur Mayor Bob Broeder, who is president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, told reporters.
"We don't want to see nothing being done. That would be unacceptable."
Broeder held a framed copy of the iconic1973 Time Magazine cover featuring then-Gov.Wendell Anderson holding a large northern pike, with the headline "The Good Life in Minnesota: the State that Works.'
Broeder and leaders from dozens of small cities spent the day making the rounds in the Senate and the House, urging lawmakers to increase Local Government Aid, and find a dedicated, sustainable long-term fix for transportation.
"When it comes to Local Government Aid we use it to keep taxes down," Morris City Manager Blaine Hill explained, saying the local property tax levy has held steady in part because of that program that distributes direct assistance to municipalities.
"We're at a point where if we don't get anymore then we're going to have to start raising taxes."
Gov. Mark Dayton supports a one-time $21 million increase to the LGA program, while the Senate wants a permanent $45 million boost. Republicans want to hold LGA funding where it is for Greater Minnesota, and cut local aid to metro cities.
The program has sustained cuts during lean budget years, and some lawmakers would prefer caps on local property taxes in exchange for state aid.
Small city mayors said they don't like the idea of framing the aid question as a rural versus urban question. They say the entire state benefits from a vibrant Twin Cities.
"I have constituents and friends that drive to the Mall of America, take the light rail to the twins game. You think they wouldn’t get on the light rail line on Eden Prairie?" Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski remarked.
He said he has attended several meetings of county leaders from across rural Minnesota who favor raising the fuel tax, which is dedicated to roads and bridges.
"We've seen the corner getting turned on the gas tax. They're a lot of interest in that because something has to happen," Smiglewski remarked, explaining that safe, reliable roads are vital for business in greater Minnesota.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and virtually every Republican lawmaker is opposed to the idea.
Another large piece of the puzzle that's still in limbo at the Capitol is the public works construction bonding bill, which helps cities and towns build and repair infrastructure programs.
The Senate's $1.5 billion bill failed to garner the required 3/5ths super majority, because almost every Republican voted against it. Republicans objected to the overall size of the bill, because of the debt service required on the projects that are financed over a 20-year period.
Others were opposed to the idea of funding projects such as local fire halls using State bonding dollars.
But Windom City Administrator Steve Nasby defended the local fire and ambulance hall, which was included in the Senate's bonding bill.
"We serve a very large area. We have 245 square miles in our ambulance district, and we have 190 miles we serve in our fire district," Nasby said, explaining that local taxpayers in Windom shouldn't have to foot the entire bill when the coverage area goes well beyond city limits.
The House bonding bill hasn't been unveiled yet, but Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt says it will be capped at $600 million.