Chris Coleman is mayor of St. Paul. Wayne Wolden is mayor of Wadena, Minn., and is president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.
Mayors Coleman and Wolden wrote the following op-ed in the Star Tribune:
Whether you live in St. Paul, Wadena or any other corner of the state, you’ve heard the news: People are losing their jobs. Even companies in Minnesota long considered safe — Target, Best Buy, IBM — are feeling the crunch and laying off hundreds of workers.
The country is in a recession. We all can agree that protecting middle-class jobs — and even encouraging companies to grow new jobs — is an essential tool for digging out of this economic hole.
Unfortunately, Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA) will do exactly the opposite. In 2009, cities would lose $78 million under the governor’s proposal, in addition to the $54 million already lost through the governor’s unallotment at the end of 2008. Cities are out of options when it comes to making up these vanishing funds. Levies for 2009 have already been set. Reserves have been drained. Services, and thousands of workers who provide them, will have to be cut, and property taxes will skyrocket in the years to come.
Although the governor lauds several business-tax incentives included in his budget proposal, these perks will fall flat when it comes to attracting new jobs. Cuts in LGA will trigger unaffordable property-tax increases that businesses won’t be able to bear, making our cities less competitive with those in other states.
For the economy to thrive again, the viability of our cities must be a priority for the state. Businesses are looking for cities that will attract creative, skilled workers, who in turn expect livable communities at an affordable price. Libraries, parks, recreation centers, cleared roads in the winter, and police and fire protection at a moment’s notice are all part of what makes a community strong. But just as important is a commitment the state made years ago when it launched the LGA program — that no matter what corner of the state you live in, you have a right to these services at a fair price.
It’s time for the state to fulfill this commitment, not shrink from it. Cutting LGA is a backhanded property-tax increase from a no- new-taxes governor, and a city’s ability to support job growth will suffer as a result. Weakened cities can’t balance the state’s budget deficit on their backs. With the help of LGA, strong cities can attract and retain jobs, which is what the state needs now more than ever.
Mayors Coleman and Wolden know that we need a balanced approach to our state budget. Click here to sign a petition asking Governor Pawlenty to get our state moving forward by putting everything on the table.