Cities gear up for funding fight
ST. PAUL -- A perennial Minnesota legislative debate about local government aid is expected in the 2010 session, or maybe earlier.
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is making noise about a big fight, and many city officials are concerned that they cannot wait until lawmakers return to the Capitol on Feb. 4. A Wednesday budget forecast, which could show a new deficit of $1 billion, may lead to cuts in local governments' December state paychecks.
"Repeated cuts to LGA have pushed our communities to the edge, and our ability to provide public safety, libraries, parks and other essential services at an affordable price to property taxpayers is suffering," coalition President timothy Strand, the St. Peter mayor, said. "On behalf of our residents, we are telling legislators and the governor that enough is enough."
Local governments are scheduled to receive $412 million in December aid checks, one of two installments each year. A year ago, Pawlenty chopped those checks to help fill a deficit the state then faced. While he seems reluctant to do the same thing this December, it all depends on what Wednesday's budget report says.
The Wednesday report will summarize the state economy, but government officials look harder at how much money they will have to spend. Or, in this case, it will be how much of a deficit they will face.
Some predict the report will show revenues falling up to $1 billion short of expectations. Early indications are that the news will not be good, given the fact that in the first four months of the current two-year budget, which started July 1, the state was $233 million short.
Regardless of the financial picture, the city coalition said Pawlenty's unilateral cuts, known as unallotment, and other actions hurt them.
"Cities were disproportionately targeted for funding cuts in recent unallotment actions, and it's time for the Legislature to stand up and right this wrong," Strand said.
The coalition plans to ask lawmakers to return their aid to 2009 levels, adding $60 million to city spending.
A new Web site, www.StimulusWatch.org, makes it easier for taxpayers to see how federal stimulus money is being spent locally.
While much information remains sketchy, the Web site does give figures and basic descriptions of projects the federal money funded.
Among the site's features is the ability for people to add information about local projects.
Kelliher gets nod
Minnesota's two major American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees unions split their support in the 2010 governor's race.
While Council 5, based in the Twin Cities, backs former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, Nashwauk-based Council 65 supports another Democrat, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Both candidates live in Minneapolis.
The decision to back Kelliher was close, Council 65 Executive Director Steve Preble said.
"But, when we finally had to decide, it was clear that not only would Anderson Kelliher make a terrific governor but her ability to build coalitions made her both the most electable and meant she could deliver on the issues that matter most to working people," Preble said.
A so-called litmus test apparently is being considered by national Republican officials.
A 10-point list is being circulated with the intention of forcing GOP candidates to abide by at least seven of the principles to win party endorsement. The list:
-- We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill.
-- We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run health care.
-- We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation.
-- We support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check.
-- We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants.
-- We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges.
-- We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat.
-- We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act.
-- We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion.
-- We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.
Open house set
The annual Minnesota governor's residence holiday open house schedule begins Tuesday.
On three Tuesdays -- Dec. 1, Dec. 8 and Dec. 15 -- the 1006 Summit Ave., St. Paul, house will be open for tours 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.