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Cities have 'shared the pain' enough

On Monday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty will outline his supplemental budget for the 2010 session which will be his proposal to fill a $1.2 billion budget hole for the remainder of the biennium. With few exceptions, nearly all other areas of the state budget will be proposed for reduction.

"Each day that goes by means more options are taken off the table, the hole is dug deeper and the problem gets much harder to solve," the Republican governor said last week in his State of the State speech. He no doubt will be looking for ways to move large amounts of money, notably delaying more payments to schools and cutting state aid to local governments.

Neither hold promise as good fiscal solutions and, instead, serve to put school districts, cities and counties in the same boiling pot of red ink that the state's in.

Several mayors were in Bemidji last week to make the case of keeping LGA as it is. They presented a Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities survey of cities that shows 98 percent reduced their 2010 expenditures, with street maintenance the most affected service, followed by parks and recreation programs and public safety. The survey of 58 cities showed 188 positions were cut, an average of 3.25 positions per city. A third were public safety personnel.

Gov. Pawlenty argues that all levels of government need to share in the state's pain, and rein in spending. But city and counties have already set balanced budgets for 2010 and unalloting or legislatively cutting LGA to cities will force them to make decisions that effect essential public services, which include fixing potholes and keeping the public library open. Plus, cities have had to raise property taxes to try to maintain some stability, thus pushing the "no new taxes" broken pledge onto other governments.

Key, though, is the argument that cities do agree that they must participate in helping solve the state's budget problems -- but they've done enough. LGA accounts for only 2 percent of the state budget, but 16 percent of Gov. Pawlenty's cuts, a cumulative total of $1 billion since he took office.

Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann, who took on Gov. Pawlenty's disparaging remarks about Bemidji as a "government town," said the city "has been fiscally prudent and attentive to our residents' needs" while still making $300,000 in service reductions, including a freeze on city employee salaries and benefits. It includes the loss of the city's community development director who oversaw the city's economic development initiatives.

With the option of raising taxes not on the table, it will be difficult to find the right solutions to balance the budget without causing someone pain. But local governments have carried their share of the pain and then some, and any more aid reductions will compound the pain to the citizens of Minnesota, whom they also serve. -- Bemidji Pioneer