In 2003, in response to a state deficit, Governor Pawlenty and a legislature dominated by conservatives, decided to cut Local Government Aid (LGA). In addition to the initial cuts, this consequently eliminated the inflation adjustment that was previously in place for the next ten years. And nearly six years after the cuts, public safety and police budgets across Minnesota are still feeling the loss.
LGA was created in 1971 to guarantee Minnesota cities the ability to provide consistent public services without forcing property tax payers to bear the brunt. An initiative was later created to ensure that cities would receive no less assistance than they received in 1993. One half of the LGA budget was allocated toward maintaining this. That portion has now fallen to just 8 percent.
The formula for allocating LGA has not changed much for the smallest cities. But Greater Minnesota cities with populations over 2500 people have been hit the hardest. The chart below shows the 18 Greater Minnesota cities whose public safety and/or police budgets have dropped the most as a result of LGA cuts.
But even cities whose LGA has not actually dropped are suffering greatly budget stagnation that no longer adjusts for inflation. City of Melrose administrator Brian Beeman said, “We are still receiving LGA below the 2003 level, and if inflation is calculated into the equation, it is an even more serious situation.”
Many cities have avoided cutting from public safety and police budgets by taking funds from other public services such as libraries and parks. “It’s hard to tell the citizens we have no money to fund their projects. The Parks Board would like to do several improvements. However, projects must be delayed and some may never come to fruition,” said Beeman.
Still, several cities face the inability to expand or maintain public safety and police departments. And one of the largest problems is replacing equipment.
Even if a public safety or police budget has not actually decreased since 2002, they still may not be able to maintain consistent public services because of inflation and the increasing costs of delivering local services. Gas prices have also contributed to a difficulty in maintaining police services.
Due to LGA cuts, cities such as Worthington and Melrose have cut full-time officers. But, though a few cities have been forced to cut back, many more cities have been unable to support needed expansion.
“The City of Goodview has wanted to add one more full-time officer, but the funds aren’t there. Plus, both the Chief’s squad and K-9 unit cars need to be replaced, but once again the funds aren’t there,” said City Administrator Dan Matejka.
Some cities are reluctant to completely place the burden of funding public safety upon their residents. Nate Matthews, Staples City Administrator, said, “The City hasn’t been able to place an additional officer on the force. Because LGA was underfunded, this cost would be placed directly on the tax levy of the City, but this would have raised local property tax too much.”
Only about half of the $970 million LGA loss has been recovered through steep property tax increases. In 2005, $48 million was restored, but the Governor vetoed the restoration of another $70 million in 2007.
The consequences of the LGA cuts are a prime example of how short sighted conservative public policy has long term, negative effects. Without appropriate LGA, a city’s only options are to continue to increase property taxes or further cut from their public safety and police budgets.
Conservative public policymakers are compromising public safety through slavish devotion to a failed no-taxes/government is bad public policy posture. They risk Minnesotans’ lives and Minnesota’s future.
State policymakers should support full restoration of LGA, as well as reinstatement of the inflation adjustment.