The issue of Local Government Aid is personal to Ken Zepeda. He’s worked as a St. Paul firefighter for roughly a year. That puts him dead last on the seniority list. In other words, he would be the first firefighter let go if there are personnel cutbacks. To make matters worse, Zepeda’s wife recently lost her job of 12 years.
Zepeda spoke at a noontime rally at the Capitol March 26 to oppose proposed cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA).
“Make no mistake, citizens of St. Paul, your safety will be in jeopardy because of this reduction,” Zepeda (pictured) said.
Under Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed budget, aid to counties and cities would be reduced by $245 million — a 14 percent reduction. Many local governments rely on this funding to help pay for core services such as police, fire and libraries.
The City of St. Paul, for instance, would lose roughly $24 million, on top of a $6 million cutback last year. Earlier this week, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced that six employees of the Department of Safety and Inspections would be laid off, with additional staff cuts looming.
“Whether you live in Wadena, Worthington or Woodbury, you need strong police and fire departments,” said Wayne Wolden, Mayor of Wadena, at the start of the rally. “That’s why we’re here today, to show how critical LGA is to Minnesota.”
Not surprisingly, most of the heat was directed at the state’s top elected official, who has vowed to close a looming $4.6 billion deficit without raising taxes.
“I would argue that Gov. Pawlenty has abandoned local government under his tenure,” said Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), chair of the Taxes committee and a potential candidate for Governor in 2010. “You’ll hear him talk frequently about how public safety is the most important thing to him. … Who carries out public safety? It’s carried out by local governments.”
Bakk (pictured) also charged that Pawlenty reneged on a deal hammered out at the end of the last legislative session to increase funding for LGA in return for a cap on local property tax levies that the Governor wanted.
“The deal has been broken,” said Bakk. “He’s going to lose his levy limits. It’s only fair.
Local Government Aid was originally created to provide assistance to cities and counties that struggle to raise revenues through property taxes, a point emphasized by Rep. Tom Rukavina.
“I come from a city that has been mining iron ore for over 100 years, … but we have no property wealth,” said Rukavina, a DFLer from the Iron Range town of Virginia. “Local government aid is necessary because there’s communities all over Minnesota that don’t have property wealth.”