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Editorial: LGA is poised for a welcome

State Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, is a former president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and executive at the Free Market Institute of Minnesota. State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, enjoys a 92 percent rating from the National Rifle Association and a 0 percent rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League.

In other words, Runbeck and Chamberlain boast solid conservative credentials. So, it’s significant that a task force they co-chaired on Minnesota’s Local Government Aid system came to this conclusion:

“LGA remains an important program in terms of state-local fiscal relations and should not be eliminated.”

Reformed, yes; but eliminated, no, even though LGA in effect redistributes money from well-off to less well-off communities in Minnesota, the task force concluded in December.

That’s strong evidence of LGA’s continuing relevance and effectiveness. And on Monday, LGA got another important boost as a team of lawmakers announced a bipartisan plan to simplify and restructure LGA.

Good news for Local Government Aid, of course, is good news for northwestern Minnesota, where a significant share of many cities’ budgets comes from the program. Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, is among the region’s lawmakers who recognize this importance and have signed on to the new reform.

“Today at the Minnesota State Capitol, legislation was introduced which outlines an agreement between Minneapolis, St. Paul, suburban and Greater Minnesota cities on a distribution formula for Local Government Aid, long a contentious issue between metro and rural interest groups at the Capitol,” the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities announced Monday.

“Freshman Rep. Ben Lien, DFL –Moorhead, is the chief author of House File 1608, which greatly simplifies the distribution formula while ensuring that more money goes to the communities with the greatest needs for property tax relief.

“Another key feature of the proposed formula is its stability and predictability, which has been a great source of distress for mayors and city councils across the state. …

“Coalition members are also pressing the Legislature to adopt Gov. Mark Dayton’s $80 million increase in the LGA appropriation.”

As the website describes, “The underlying philosophy of the LGA program is that no matter what corner of the state we live in, no matter how poor a city’s property tax base is and no matter how high a city’s need is, we all have the right to needed services.

“These services include police and fire protection, libraries, parks and recreation programs and safe roads year-round, among others.”

Basically, LGA helps cities whose property base doesn’t generate enough tax revenue to pay for good services. In that way, it lets Minnesotans enjoy quality services regardless of where in the state they travel or live.

But the past decade’s budget deficits meant LGA took shocking hits. The result has been higher property taxes, weaker services – and, probably not coincidentally, Democratic majorities in the Legislature, as voters rebelled against Republicans’ seeming hostility to good-government programs such as LGA.

Now, the announcement that a bipartisan group of metro and rural lawmakers has reached agreement suggests LGA is coming back. That’s great news. Since the 1970s, LGA has helped rural Minnesota communities keep their attractiveness and charm. Here’s hoping the Legislature acknowledges this role, recognizes LGA’s usefulness and returns to Minnesota’s traditionally strong support.