In an effort to keep you, our readers, well-informed and abreast of relevant issues, today is the 14th in a series of questions we are asking all of Steele County’s candidates for state office.
We want voters to know where each candidate stands on the issues in order to make their best decision at the ballot box.
Each week, we’ll ask the candidates a new question. They will all receive the same question, be given a word limit and a deadline of four days to answer. We’ll publish their answers the following Wednesday; responses may be edited for length.
The series will continue through Nov. 2, the last Wednesday before the Nov. 8 general election.
If a candidate doesn’t respond, we’ll note that.
This week, we’re asking about funding for the cities and towns in the state:
The League of Minnesota Cities is just one of multiple entities that felt slighted after the 2022 legislative session adjourned – in fact, last month, leaders of 17 local government agencies called on state lawmakers to convene a special session, urging action on “issues that need attention now and should not wait until 2023.” They refer to the state’s $9.2 billion budget surplus, saying it “provides an unprecedented opportunity for Minnesota to address … immediate and critical needs.”
Cities are historically dissatisfied with the amount of Local Government Aid (LGA) funding they receive, but the 2022 allocation seems to have stung a bit more.
What would you say to the leaders of Steele County cities who believe this is the time to invest more money in LGA? The limit was 250 words.
We advise you to ignore the R or DFL behind each name and reflect only on the answers. You might be surprised to find more common ground than you expected. An (i) indicates the incumbent candidate, though with this spring’s redistricting, the district numbers may not align with the seat they’re seeking.
Question of the Week:
What would you say to the leaders of Steele County cities who believe this is the time to invest more money in Local Government Aid?
Minnesota House District 19B
Abdulahi Ali Osman – DFL, of Owatonna
John Petersburg – R (i-24A), of Waseca
Minnesota House District 23A
Peggy Bennett – R (i-27A), of Albert Lea:
I support LGA for small rural communities. I know many of our small towns in greater Minnesota with little tax base need LGA to afford basic services such as sewer, water, police, etc.
In 2013, under complete Democrat control, the balance of LGA changed. It went from a split of 2/3 greater MN and 1/3 metro, to ½ and ½. Now Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth get 1/3 of the total LGA funding. I know these big cities have their needs, but I start to question the real need when I see cities like that spend money on things like giant sculpture parks, designer manhole covers, and expensive trains. Then I see how much our small rural communities struggle to provide just the basics like sewer, water, and police.
I look at the continual need for increases and wonder if LGA is truly serving its purpose. Is it working or not working? If we continually need more increases, that tells me that it’s not working. Perhaps that’s because LGA is simply a band-aid instead of getting to the source of the problem. What is driving up the costs of local government for our communities? One of those things would be over regulation, such as added sewer and water regulations that will do little to help the environment but triples the costs of sewer and water for our communities.
People want their tax dollars spent in an efficient manner on things that work. I support LGA, but it must be reformed.
Mary Hinnenkamp – DFL, of Albert Lea:
My opponent in the race for Minnesota House 23 A has compared the projected over $9 billion dollar surplus to money burning a hole in a kid’s pocket. A more apt metaphor is this. If I have a child in my family who needs medical care or my house is crumbling, the money in my bank account is not a surplus. I would use it to get treatment for my child or do the repairs on my house. Likewise, I think that the Minnesota legislature should have acted on the needs of Minnesotans and passed the bonding bill, local government aid, and education bill.
Democrats agreed to targeted tax relief for working families and seniors as well, and Republicans also left that on the table. Knocking on over 12,000 doors and listening to folks from Elmore to Glenville, Emmons to Ellendale, I have heard similar concerns. Our rural communities need roads and bridges fixed, our cities want to make the necessary waste treatment upgrades, and our schools need to catch students up after the pandemic disrupted two school years.
All of our communities counted on the legislature coming to an agreement. When negotiations broke down, the Republican-controlled Senate packed up and went home, refusing to return under the budget framework they had previously agreed to. This leaves all of our local schools, counties and cities in the lurch and facing the unhappy prospect of raising property taxes to meet the needs of their communities. We can and must do better.
Minnesota House District 23B
Patricia Mueller – R (i-27B), of Austin:
Local government aid (LGA) was instated as a way to help smaller cities and counties. LGA is distributed through a complex formula based on a city’s size. One purpose of LGA is for cities to provide property tax relief. With soaring property values, LGA can temper a levy increase that would be crushing to the local citizens. LGA can also be used for ensuring equity in providing city services and stability in a city’s budget. When I went to Blooming Prairie’s city council meeting where they discussed the city audit, I learned that 90% of the city’s budget was supported by LGA. If this is true for other smaller cities in the district, it is important for the LGA funds to be distributed equitably. The last time the formula for LGA was examined and adjusted was in 2013. Every year, more cities fall off the formula completely. This year 112 cities are slated to fall off the formula and not receive any LGA. In the 2021 session, I was asked to sign on to HF3794, which would have increased LGA appropriation by $90M without a formula change. I instead supported HF4064 which increased the LGA appropriation by $28.22M with a formula change that was supported by the League of Minnesota Cities. Neither of these bills made it to the final tax omnibus bill. If the State is going to allocate LGA for cities to provide for their unmet needs, these funds must be allocated equitability and in full transparency.
Tom Stiehm – DFL, of Austin:
LOCAL Government Aid (LGA) is the lifeblood of rural and in some cases metro Minnesota cities. It’s like revenue sharing for cities. Cities with lower tax bases get more LGA than cities with higher tax bases. LGA is property tax relief.
There was a portion of the surplus this year set aside for property tax relief. Because the Republicans walked away from attempts to distribute the surplus this year, cities will receive no increase in LGA.
At times, the city of Austin received almost half of our city budget from LGA. This is not a gift, it’s our legislature recognizing that for less well-off cities to have the police, fire, and other essential services that are comparable with the rest of Minnesota. Without LGA we would not be able to hire police and firefighters as the same quality as the other cities. Public safety officers should not be punished or held to a lower standard because their cities do not have the resources as others. Citizens should not be punished by having to set lower standards for their officers. Legislators who do not support LGA are not supporting their police and firefighters.
The Coalition of Minnesota Cities is the sole organization fighting for rural cities receiving LGA. I was on the board of Directors for the Coalition of Minnesota Cities for years. And as such fought for LGA. And will continue to do so.
Minnesota Senate District 19
Kate Falvey – DFL, of Faribault:
What we have here is another example of how the Republican-controlled Senate’s failure to act at the end of the 2022 session did damage to the economy of Minnesota. According to the League of Minnesota Cities’ article from August 8, 2022, failure to pass the tax bill has led to a “....loss of LGA to at least 150 cities in 2023.” So not only was there no increase agreed upon, those 150 communities are going to have to come up with more money on their own for their basic services to their citizens. Communities are required to enact levy upon levy when we have a multi-billion-dollar surplus! Providing much-needed LGA funding to cities will help not only the larger cities, but will alleviate the strain on smaller, rural communities’ budgets to serve citizens successfully. In order to keep Minnesota a great place to live in ALL areas, we must also evaluate the equity in funding distribution.
What would I say? I would tell Steele County City Leaders that it IS time for not only more money to be invested in LGA, but also an evaluation of how equitable the process and formula is for giving cities that money.
The article I referenced: Local Government Aid 2023 Certification Posted - League of Minnesota Cities (https://www.lmc.org/news-publications/news/all/local-government-aid-2023-certification-posted/).
John Jasinksi – R (i-24), of Faribault:
Minnesota Senate District 23
Gene Dornink – R (i-27), of Brownsdale:
All bills that increase state spending, including LGA appropriations, can only originate in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The House Democrats never sent an LGA appropriations bill to the Senate last session, therefore the Senate never had the opportunity to vote on this issue. The purpose of local government aid is to help cities that do not have the necessary tax base to make essential improvements to services and provide property tax relief.
LGA for every city in Steele County has increased over the prior year amount each year between 2017 and 2023. I support increasing LGA if it’s used to help small cities and not being abused by larger cities. Unfortunately, Governor Walz and DFL leadership wanted to use LGA funds to pay for the damages caused by the riots they allowed to continue for 3 days. Minneapolis and St. Paul received $147M in LGA funds for those repairs, 25% of the total amount for the entire state. This means less money was able to go to cities like ours in Steele County. Greater Minnesota deserves adequate funding to ensure every Minnesota city has the resources it needs to provide the essential services and improvements they need.
Brandon Lawhead – DFL, of Austin:
Next week’s question
It’s time to talk about guns. The federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed in June, gives states $750 million over five years to implement or improve a range of crisis intervention programs. It’s broad and could cover mental health courts, veterans courts and drug courts – but many states are considering it for red flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily seize firearms from people who pose an immediate danger to themselves or others.
The Minnesota state legislature has considered red flag laws several times in recent years – including in 2020 – but has not passed any.
Should state government accept the new aid as an incentive to enact red flag laws? What laws would you support, if any? There is a 350-word limit.