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Greg Davids: Twin Cities, Duluth don't need LGA

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It has been interesting reading the sky-is-falling predictions coming from Minnesota's inner city mayors regarding a Minnesota House plan to eventually eliminate Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth - three of Minnesota's largest cities - from receiving Local Government Aid.

It has been downright confusing to see many rural mayors and chambers of commerce buying into their nonsense.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has been especially vocal with his claims, urging our rural communities to protest the elimination of LGA from the first-class cities, telling them "we may be first, but you'll surely be next!"

Minneapolis basically wants every other Minnesota community to rally to its side to show unity, to form an LGA alliance.

It's like a bad episode of "Survivor," because once the largest cities get what they want, they will inevitably kick their rural teammates off the island.

There is no disputing that a strong, sound government aid program is central to the health and vitality of Minnesota. As the former mayor of Preston - population 1,325 - I fully realize how critical LGA is to smaller communities and how this funding helps them provide important services to their residents.

The difference is Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth have alternate revenue sources, such as local option sales and entertainment taxes which raise many millions - to help them pay for those services.

Despite this, Minneapolis is scheduled to receive $87 million

in LGA payments this year.

Yet Minneapolis doesn't just spend its LGA on police and snowplowing as it would have you believe. It also wastes money on artist-designed water fountains, streetcar initiatives, bicycle parking, climate change grants for "high-quality clothes lines" and more.

I'm sorry, but these are not "critical" needs. They are nice-to-haves but are not essential.

If the first-tier cities have money to blow on projects like these, then they have the financial resources to pay for basic services without the large amount of state aid they are currently receiving.

With Minnesota facing a $5.1 billion budget deficit, we need to reduce state spending, and cutting local government aid for first-tier cities that can get by without it is a good place to start. Under our bill, 600 other cities will receive the same amount of LGA, or the amount they were certified for, as they did in 2010, and 240 communities would actually see an increase.

Yet the complaints are being heard from all corners of the state because poor old Minneapolis might not be able to fund its newest water fountain.

Let's be clear, folks: There's not enough LGA money to go around, and the pot of cash is not getting bigger. We are trying to protect the communities that truly need LGA - those in the rural areas that depend on it for essential services. Any increase in LGA funding for first-class cities has to be found within the LGA funding already in our budget.

In short: An increase for Minneapolis means a decrease for Winona, or any other outstate regional center and rural community.

House lawmakers want to assist cities that have a small commercial/industrial tax base. LGA is meant to help cities provide services, not allow cities that can afford to stand on their own two feet waste taxpayer money.

To the rural city officials who are standing arm in arm with their friends in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth: Be careful what you wish for. If a deal is struck that protects LGA funding for first-tier cities, it's almost a certainty that your funding will decrease.

As a former mayor, I know I'd have a big problem explaining to my residents how it was more important to stand up for Minneapolis than it was to keep one of my police officers employed. How would you tell constituents that your town could have had more LGA, yet you decided it was more important for the inner cities to receive it?

As chairman of the House Taxes committee, I am committed to rural Minnesota communities receiving equal or greater amounts of LGA than they have in the past - even in the face of a $5.1 billion deficit.

But the only way that can happen is if Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth are forced to do more with less.

State Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, is the chairman of the Minnesota House Taxes Committee.

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