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Editorial: Invest in Local Government Aid

Here’s why Minnesota House Republicans should support proposals to boost Local Government Aid:

Because LGA works.

It does just what it’s supposed to do: help Minnesota towns from the Arrowhead region to the southwest maintain professional police departments, pleasant parks and proud libraries.

It does this as a matter of routine, without scandal or selfishness. (Nobody’s getting rich off of LGA.) And it has been accomplishing this challenging task since the 1970s.

Few government programs can boast such a long track record of success. Likewise, few have won such widespread support, from Republican and Democratic city leaders across Minnesota to the editorial boards of nearly every newspaper in the state.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a political winner: a program that improves Minnesota’s quality of life statewide. Republican House members should acknowledge this success and urge their caucus leaders to boost LGA.

As Minnesotans know, police, fire and other services in Minnesota communities get paid for in large part through property taxes. And in those areas where the property-tax rolls include lots of valuable and expensive parcels, the system works fine.

But lots of towns aren’t so lucky. They’re property poor, they feature big tracts of state-owned or other untaxable lands, or both.

That’s where LGA comes in. By following formulas that calculate a city’s need and cutting especially strapped cities a check, the state government keeps Minnesota vibrant for all Minnesotans.

After all, Twin Cities residents who visit or vacation outstate want their destinations to be as clean, attractive and well-run as possible. Those are exactly the conditions that LGA enables: not criminal corruption or garish excess, but the trusted presence of quality schools, emergency services and recreational opportunities from border to border.

Of course, throughout the early 2000s, Local Government Aid took lots of big hits. The state cut back in order to fill its budget holes, and smaller communities felt the pinch.

Today, "the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities has called for an increase of $45.5 million to the LGA program in 2017," the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn., editorialized last month.

"Such an increase would bring LGA funding to about $565 million annually, a similar level to 15 years ago."

That’s not too much to ask.

But last year, House Republican leaders responded to this logic with a shockingly partisan move. They voted to freeze the payments to most cities while cutting by $85 million the payments to three.

Those would be Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth—not coincidentally, three of the cities with the heaviest concentration of DFLers in the state.

(Notably omitted from the cutback list: the similarly sized but predominantly Republican Rochester.)

And in 2016, that misguided idea apparently remains the House Republicans go-to policy, given that the representatives haven’t yet advanced a different plan.

That should change. For Local Government Aid is an unalloyed success. It’s a program that has helped cement Minnesota’s worldwide reputation as a great place to live; and House Republicans should recognize this by giving LGA the solid support it has earned.