Cloquet mayor to serve on Governor’s tax reform task forceCloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren is one of 15 mayors from around that state who will advise Governor Mark Dayton on tax reform, specifically Local Government Aid (LGA).
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren is one of 15 mayors from around that state who will advise Governor Mark Dayton on tax reform, specifically Local Government Aid (LGA).
It’s a subject Ahlgren knows well. Since 2003, he said the city of Cloquet has lost about $14 million in LGA funds because of cuts by the state.
“We [mayors] understand running local government,” he said, adding that cities have been hit hard by the continuing cuts to LGA. “We know how they run and what you need to run them.”
This Tax Reform Advisory Group for LGA will review and discuss policy issues related to Local Government Aid, specifically on how to best pay for local services while holding local property taxes down. The work of this advisory group will directly support Governor Dayton’s comprehensive tax reform proposal, which will be presented to the 2013 legislature.
“The legislature’s continuing cuts to LGA have increased the financial pressures on local governments throughout Minnesota. I look to this group of distinguished mayors to advise us on whether LGA should be revised, or simply funded,” Dayton said in a press release.
The amount of LGA distributed to Minnesota cities is approximately half of what it was a decade ago, which has hurt cities’ ability to provide critical services like police, fire, snow plowing and street maintenance. Legislative decisions to reduce local aid has also resulted in the state shifting budget deficit problems onto local governments, forcing them to reduce their budgets and increase local property taxes.
“Property taxes in Minnesota have risen dramatically in the past decade across our state, in communities large and small. I’m looking forward to working with this great group of mayors to recommend long-term solutions for a fairer tax system and a sustainable state-local partnership for every part of Minnesota,” said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, co-chair of the advisory group.
Fairness is a big part of the issue for Ahlgren, who is entering his 13th year as Cloquet mayor and who served on the school board for 12 years before that. Ahlgren talked about the 1974 Minnesota Miracle, when a state sales tax was part of a long-term budget fix.
“That’s how they sold the sales tax,” Ahlgren said. “They said we should collect it, send it to St. Paul and they would distribute it statewide. That way places like Cohasset, who didn’t have strong industry, would still have good schools and a strong police force. The state was only supposed to keep a small amount.”
Since then, and particularly over the past decade or so, the state legislature keeps making its portion bigger and cutting what goes back to local government.
Ahlgren said he didn’t think Gov. Dayton was looking to reinvent the Minnesota Miracle.
“We want to take a look at why state government wants to keep all the LGA and why they think it’s theirs,” the Cloquet mayor said. “Are there any reforms to make it more palatable?”
Ahlgren said everything is on the table in terms of how cities use LGA, what they use it for such as services like police and fire, along with other community needs.
Dayton announced the advisory group members Thursday, Feb. 2. They represent all sizes of Minnesota cities, from very small to the largest cities in the state. Algren and Duluth Mayor Don Ness represent this part of the state.
“It’s an excellent committee,” said Ahlgren, who has been very active in statewide groups and issue discussions in the past. “I’m very honored to be a part of this.”
Advisory group members are:
Mayor R.T. Rybak, city of Minneapolis (co-chair)
Mayor Dave Kleis, city of St. Cloud (co-chair)
Mayor Bruce Ahlgren, city of Cloquet
Mayor Dave Bartholomay, city of Circle Pines
Mayor Beth Baumann, city of South St. Paul
Mayor ReNae Bowman, city of Crystal
Mayor Ardell Brede, city of Rochester
Mayor Chris Coleman, city of St. Paul
Mayor Debbie Goettel, city of Richfield
Mayor Don Ness, city of Duluth
Mayor Joyce Nyhus, city of Buffalo Lake
Mayor Alan Oberloh, city of Worthington
Mayor Marlene Prospeck, city of Hoyt Lakes
Mayor Mary Rossing, city of Northfield
Mayor Dave Smiglewski, city of Granite Falls
“As the mayor of a regional center with high demand for services, I’m excited to help develop a long-term, innovative and fair solution for property taxes. Temporary fixes aren’t working and Minnesotans deserve a thoughtful, strategic approach to our entire tax system,” said St. Cloud Mayor and Advisory Group Co-Chair Dave Kleis.
The group will meet periodically throughout 2012.