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Published November 30 2011

Forum editorial: It’s no-win for cities in Minnesota

No matter how they try to spin it, Republican lawmakers in the Minnesota Legislature are responsible for coming tax increases and/or deep cuts in the budgets of Minnesota cities. The proof of the majority’s culpability was in full view in Moorhead this week. City Council members and city staff struggled to decide how to raise at least part of the shortfall caused by the state by raising property taxes. They struggled further with the other side of the equation: slashing the kind of programs and services that historically have made Moorhead an attractive, livable city.

Leaders of the Republican legislative majority have tried mightily to distance themselves from the fallout of their actions. Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, for example, refuses to concede that the loss of state aid to cities like Moorhead is translating into higher property taxes, or cuts in not only amenities, but also basic services. If the goal of Hoffman and her like-minded colleagues was to honor their tired mantra “to cut government at all levels,” they appear to be getting there on the backs of local taxpayers and city officials who have to deal with reality, not political ideology.

Defenders of the Legislature’s actions might say Moorhead is contemplating ending support for “non-essential services,” such as River Keepers, the Metro Youth Partnership, Arts Partnership and Humane Society – no big deal. While there is room to debate whether the programs are non-essential, the cuts go deeper.

The city might have to defund a street maintenance position and a community services planner. Also on the block: snow, grass and street services, which could translate into deteriorating street surfaces, weed-infested neighborhoods and fewer or no snow removal passes through specific residential developments. By most sane definitions, those are basic city services.

Lawmakers responsible for dumping their inability to manage the state’s budget onto generally well-managed cities can’t hide behind their nebulous cut-spending religion. The practical and damaging impacts in Moorhead and other cities underscore what can be fairly characterized as legislative malfeasance.

When higher property tax bills come next time, and cuts mean the streets are not plowed promptly, and at-risk kids are at more risk because youth programs are gone – when all that begins to affect Moorhead’s quality of life – don’t direct ire at City Hall. Take aim at St. Paul.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.