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Legislative session disappointment for greater Minnesota cities, lobbyist says

MORRIS — A lobbying organization for greater Minnesota cities believes this year's legislative session was a disappointment for greater Minnesota.

Elizabeth Wefel, a lobbyist with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, visited the Morris City Council on Tuesday to share an update on how cities fared during the most recent legislative session.

Broadly, the Coalition felt the session failed to meet expectations for greater Minnesota, Wefel said. The organization currently represents 85 cities outside the Twin Cities metro area

"I'm sure all of you remember the headlines last November after the election, that this was the session of greater Minnesota — I think when the final gavel fell in May and then again in June, they kind of retracted on that a little bit," said Wefel.

While there were some helpful changes, including increased funding for nursing homes, "there were a lot of promising legislative advancements that just got left on the table," said Wefel.

One of the biggest pushes from the Coalition this year was to use the projected budget surplus to increase the level of Local Government Aid back to funding levels from 2002.

"It's proven to be a really good program for greater Minnesota, helping make sure that cities across Minnesota are able to meet their service needs, their road needs, things like that," said Wefel.

But when it came time to work on taxes, the Minnesota House, controlled by Republicans, and the Minnesota Senate, controlled by Democrats, had very different approaches to the bill.

The House bill aimed to give the surplus back via tax cuts and other pending cuts and proposed cutting $83 million in LGA from the first class cities — Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

"There really wasn't any good reason for that proposal," said Wefel, noting that when LGA was first created both Minneapolis and St. Paul were written into the statute. The Senate bill did include an LEGA increase, but ultimately the two bodies never had any serious negotiations on the tax bill. The two groups also could not meet to agree on a transportation package.

"Because of the differences between the two tax bills and because they couldn't make the hard decisions on transportation, we never saw a final tax bill," said Wefel.

There was some small progress made on issues like broadband Internet access, wastewater and water quality regulations and economic development programs.

"Given the expectations going into session it was a little bit like, 'Really? That's all you can do folks?" said Wefel. "I think really what ended up happening was that strong desire for significant tax cuts butted up against the desire to spend on some of those hard-hit areas and so nothing happened."