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Cloquet mayor's view: Legislature can seize LGA reform opportunity

There is an historic moment at hand for greater Minnesota. After a decade of cuts to Local Government Aid that weakened communities and resulted in higher property taxes, fewer services, eroding infrastructure and laid-off police officers and firefighters there is now a real and significant opportunity to reform LGA in a way that will bring long-lasting stability and support to communities across the state.

The LGA program is part of a cycle of prosperity that helps cities provide a platform of services, such as public safety and infrastructure, upon which all sorts of activities rely, including business, manufacturing, education, health care, and charitable undertakings. However, the cuts, freezes, and chronic underfunding of LGA has bred frustration and distrust on the part of city officials across the state and has made local budgeting extremely difficult.

LGA clearly needed a reboot.

Gov. Mark Dayton understood the important role of LGA and tackled its reform head-on. He convened a group of 15 mayors from across the state to start a discussion about strengthening LGA. Based on the meetings of these mayors, Gov. Dayton recommitted to LGA by recommending in his budget proposal an $80 million increase in funding and a new funding formula.

The Minnesota House of Representatives then took up the challenge of reform by convening a working group of legislators and organizations representing cities across the state, including the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the League of Minnesota Cities, Metro Cities, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. This group met regularly for several weeks, hashing though all kinds of ideas for making the program simpler, more stable, more inclusive of suburban communities, and more predictable for city officials who work hard to set a long-term fiscal course for their cities.

The Legislature now is poised to approve a new LGA funding plan and the $80 million increase in funding recommended by the governor. There are many reasons for our state leaders to embrace this plan. It will boost cities across the state and provide much-needed property tax relief. It's an opportunity to reinvest in our infrastructure and to shore up city services on which businesses and homeowners rely.

This new, reformed LGA formula is also a good example of what can be accomplished when those with a strong will to make something better roll up their sleeves, do their homework, and work collaboratively with those impacted to achieve a positive outcome. Perhaps this model of working together can be an example for other parts of state government.

The Legislature needs to seize this historic opportunity. If enacted into law, the long-lasting positive impacts of LGA reform upon the communities, businesses, and residents of greater Minnesota will be the great legacy of Gov. Dayton and the 2013 Legislature.

Bruce Ahlgren is mayor of Cloquet and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.