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Rural cities won't get money from suburbs

ST. PAUL -- Twin Cities suburbs apparently won't be asked to help fund other Minnesota cities as much as many rural lawmakers had hoped. Representatives voted Wednesday to accept a House Republican leadership proposal sending cities -- mostly rur...

ST. PAUL -- Twin Cities suburbs apparently won't be asked to help fund other Minnesota cities as much as many rural lawmakers had hoped.

Representatives voted Wednesday to accept a House Republican leadership proposal sending cities -- mostly rural communities, Minneapolis and St. Paul -- $218 million less a year. Lawmakers rejected an amendment giving more money to rural cities by mixing in some aid that now goes mostly to suburbs.

The vote didn't settle well with rural lawmakers, who said a strong rural Minnesota is good for the whole state.

"I don't think the suburbs can remain an island of prosperity in an ocean of economic decline," Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said

Eken and other rural legislators said the House-passed plan may be as good as it gets.

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"I don't see anything better coming out of it," Rep. Dean Simpson, R-New York Mills, said.

Rural cities would have received more money under the amendment, which failed 71-62.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, had pushed the "no" button, after a lengthy pause. He flipped to "yes" when Republican Whip Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, made the rounds of rural lawmakers, letting them know there were enough votes to defeat the amendment without them.

Lanning had worked on a plan similar to what the House defeated. The House Tax Committee rejected it last week.

Moorhead would lose $1.7 million of its $8.8 million local government aid next year under the House bill. The defeated amendment would have given the city about $500,000 more money than the House plan.

Current law would put $608 million into local government aid next year, but most at the Capitol agree that will not happen in a budget crunch.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal, similar to the House plan, is to spend $349 million next year. The House bill would spend $390 million. An incomplete Senate plan would provide $549 million, funded by $1 billion in tax increases.

"There is not much we can do about the amount, given the budget crisis," Pawlenty said. "But there is something we can do about how we can distribute the money more fairly."

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The House tax bill pays local government aid based solely on how much cities need the help, not factoring in how much they traditionally have received.

The amendment by Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, would include transit aid and a property-tax relief fund that mostly go to suburbs in a city aid distribution formula. The House chamber was unusually quiet and almost every representative remained seated during the LGA debate.

"This is probably going to be the most important vote you will take for the next 20 years," Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, told rural representatives.

Aid that is cut this year never will be recovered, he said.

"They are being asked to take 19 times the hit of Plymouth or Edina," Marquart said about some western Minnesota cities.

The tax bill "could very well put my rural communities on their back," he said.

"This amendment helps keep rural Minnesota connected to the state's economy," added Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Madison.

Suburban lawmakers disagreed. They hinted the amendment was a way to transfer money from suburbs to other communities.

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"Rep. Dorman has found a way to cut my city $15.2 million," said Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington.

She and others from the suburbs said they already pay enough to rural Minnesota.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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