Monday, May 02, 2011 By Aaron Brown
The bad news is not really news. Cuts to local government aid (LGA) at the state level will force cities on the Iron Range to dramatically restructure their organization, increasing property taxes and cutting services. This has been happening gradually over recent budget cycles; this time evidence will be more pronounced. Setting aside the political/academic argument about the role of LGA in government, the fact is that cost-out-of-pocket for residents of poorer and/or more rural towns will go up in the next decade, while service levels go down. Do not try to tell me this is a good thing for my friends and neighbors.
The good news is that, according to a story in the Tribune (subscription only link), Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata has extended an invitation to neighboring Range cities like Chisholm and Keewatin to discuss sharing services as budgets shrink. This has long been seen as a logical plan, certainly here at this blog. When a string of nearby culturally, politically, and economically interdependent cities must chop their budgets, it's only logical to share the financial burden and preserve more as a group than they would lose individually. In this regard we can react differently than farm towns separated by dozens of miles. Libraries, parks and recreation programming and maintenance can be stretched in this way. Not easy or ideal, but better than the alternatives.
But then the additionally bad news. Or is it? The cold reality here is that the Range region has come to depend on Local Government Aid, a cherished invention of locally-beloved DFL governors Wendell Anderson and Rudy Perpich to balance quality of life across the state. LGA will never return to its past glory. Range towns need to adopt sleeker, more efficient service delivery methods, the kinds of things Republicans are generally good at touting. But to fully embrace Republican positions on state budget issues will quite likely suck our Range towns dry -- of funds, for one, but eventually of young professionals, families and a long term tax base. Our mining tax structure provides many advantages, but in the post-1982 world I always talk about, the structure only works with robust LGA. We need a non-mining tax base before the loss of LGA will ever be fully reconciled.
Navigating this sea of Catch-22s will require sharp, innovative local leadership. Politicians who've made hay on small town boosterism will have to conspire with politicians who went to different high schools. St. Paul might not be able to save us. Are we up to the task?