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Pawlenty wisely backs off LGA cuts

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent an early Christmas present to local governments on Tuesday by agreeing not to take executive action to reduce local aid payments to them.

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The governor last week had threatened the loss of aid when state officials said the current state budget could be out of whack by $1.2 billion by the end of the biennium. Looking for an immediate fix, the $437 million in local aid payments scheduled to go out late this month appeared as a big pot of cash that could be cut to lower the state budget deficit.

But if so, it would be the third time this year that Local Government Aid to cities and County Program Aid to counties would be cut, leaving the local governments in the lurch with budgets and revenue shortfalls. Options are to raise property taxes or cut essential services such as fire, police and snowplowing.

To take more money at this late stage in the game, on top of the other reductions this year, would be just too much to absorb. The governor has recognized that, and for that, we thank him.

The governor does leave a warning, however. Not this time, but for sure next time.

"Absent meaningful alternatives, one necessary component of a budget-cutting solution will be reductions to local aid programs," Gov. Pawlenty says in a memo to city and county associations. "However, the local aid payments scheduled for payment later this month -- including Local Government Aid, County Program Aid, market value credit and other local aid programs -- will not be subject to further unallotment as part of this solution."

Minnesota cities have been asked to bear an unfair burden of state budget cuts, so Tuesday's decision by the governor is a marked improvement in what has been a rocky relationship with rural Minnesota. According to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the governor has cut $754 million in seven years in LGA and the result has been a 64 percent hike in local property taxes, and significant cuts to core services such as fire, police, snowplowing and libraries.

Now what is needed is a new formula for LGA, one that recognizes the state's property-poor cities that need the state aid for essential services and decreasing or eliminating aid to those who do not need it. And the state needs to recognize its own responsibilities and not pass its budget problems down to local governments whose options

are the most regressive.

-- Bemidji Pioneer

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