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Greater MN officials, key legislators discuss deficit, transportation funding

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) held its annual summer conference July 30-Aug. 1 in Mankato. The conference -- hosted by Mankato, North Mankato and New Ulm -- featured various speakers and legislative panels, which discussed issues concerning greater Minnesota such as transportation funding, economic development, annexation reform, and property tax relief.

During a legislative leadership panel discussion, CGMC members voiced concern that, with a projected budget deficit in the upcoming year, Local Government Aid (LGA) increases built into law during the 2008 session would likely be budget cut targets.

Inflationary increases to the LGA program were built into law as part of a compromise between the Senate and House's objective to adequately fund the LGA program and the governor's demand for levy limits.

Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis), Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem (R-Rochester), and key tax committee members assured CGMC members that they would honor their commitment to LGA increases and hold the governor to his end of the bargain.

"I spent days with the governor at the end of the session negotiating the tax bill," Senate Tax Committee Chair Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) recalls. "And with me, a deal is a deal...I will be surprised if (a cut in LGA increases) ends up in the final bill, because the governor knows what we shook hands on. There was no confusion. It was just me and him in a room with a door closed."

Legislative panel members, including both Speaker Kelliher and Minority Leader Seifert, also expressed concern with greater Minnesota getting its fair share of highway funding from the transportation bill passed earlier in the year.

Of the total raised in the new bill, the Legislature devoted $600 million to repairing and maintaining bridges statewide, however, the legislators present at the conference and CGMC members fear that MnDOT has misinterpreted the legislation and plans to dedicate a larger portion of the funds to bridge repair and maintenance projects, leaving little for highway projects across greater Minnesota.

"(The Commissioner of Transportation) is interpreting this bill as 100 percent of this money goes to bridges," Speaker Kelliher remarked. "That is not the way this bill was structured. That was not the understanding of the chairs...This is a misunderstanding. This is a miscommunication. (MnDOT) put it in their plan. They should have never gone out on the street with it."