Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who wants to be a mayor? MMA guide can get you started
The Minnesota Mayors Association, in conjunction with the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), has published an 80-page handbook that is intended as "a summary resource for practical and legal issues concerning Minnesota city mayors." The handbook is useful for newly-elected mayors, or for those aspiring to serve in that office in the near future. A survey of Minnesotans conducted by LMC a little more than two years ago showed--at the time--that while an overwhelming majority approved of their local mayor's job performance, less than 10 percent of respondents would actually consider running for mayor in their city of residence.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

League of Minnesota Cities to file brief in Brayton appeal
(A statement released earlier today by the League of Minnesota Cities)

After an extensive discussion, the League of Minnesota Cities Board of Directors today voted unanimously to authorize League staff to seek permission to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the appeal of the unallotment lawsuit that the State Supreme Court recently agreed to consider. The Board members concluded that the Brayton Case involves important constitutional issues regarding separation of powers that could affect the state’s budget process and could have repercussions for cities.

The League Board also discussed a possible direct legal challenge to the 2009 and 2010 unallotments but ultimately decided to file the amicus brief to assist the Court based on legal principles and the separation of powers.

Today’s consideration by the Board was prompted by a recent Ramsey County District Court decision (Brayton, et al v. Tim Pawlenty, et al) that, while the Governor’s unallotment authority is constitutional, the manner in which the Governor exercised his unallotment power this past summer with respect to the State’s dietary aid program was invalid and unconstitutional. The State Supreme Court will hear the case on March 15.

The League regularly files briefs in appellate court matters affecting the interests of LMC members. Amicus briefs are drafted to provide the court with information that is intended to help the Court reach a decision.

Friday, January 15, 2010

More proof that aid cuts to cities = higher local property tax burdens
Yesterday, the Minnesota Office of the State Auditor (OSA) released a report confirming that state cuts to city aids in recent years have created a greater reliance on city property taxes as a source of revenue to pay for vital city services. According to Auditor Rebecca Otto, that trend will continue “If the Legislature and Governor further cut local government aids.”

The data in the OSA report is for 2008, and highlights budget trends for the past 10 years. The city budget-year 2009 data will likely show an even greater city reliance on property taxes because of the Governor’s massive local government aid and credit unallotment administered at the conclusion of the 2009 State Legislative Session.

So if cities just accept their fate and tighten their belts, wouldn’t it be unnecessary for them to respond to aid cuts with tax increases? The report goes on to note that Minnesota cities are indeed cutting back, and have been doing so for at least a decade. Inflation-adjusted total city revenues AND expenditures decreased seven percent between 1999 and 2008, deflating claims made by local government critics that city spending has been out-of-control and is solely to blame for property tax increases.

The OSA report lends further proof to the fact that policy decisions made at the state level have dramatic impacts at the local level, and that the Legislature and the Governor need to consider renewal of an effective state-local fiscal partnership as a top priority.

Additonally, a fact not mentioned in the report is one that city residents know all-too-well: the reduction in state aids and credits has translated not only into higher property tax burdens, but also in service reductions for hundreds of communities. The League of Minnesota cities recently complied a report that details city budget-cutting measures along with service reductions.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Should local governments be eliminating jobs?
A recent Bloomberg News syndicated column that was published in the Star Tribune takes state and local governments to task for failure to follow the lead of private sector companies in terminating employees as a response to the slumping economy. There are several things wrong with this critique, though, not the least of which is the fact that it ignores supply and demand realities.

In the current economic recession, consumers are carefully managing their checkbooks. Many of them have lost jobs, or absorbed pay freezes or pay cuts, and have fewer dollars to devote to discretionary spending. For private sector businesses, a reduction in demand of goods and services is likely to affect the supply end and result in reduced profits as well as cuts in expenditures. Along with that come job cuts that, according to the Bloomberg analysis, are occurring at a percentage rate significantly higher than that of the local government sector.

What the analysis fails to mention, though, is that decreased demand for private sector goods and services does not necessarily mean the same for government services. If anything, demand for local government services—especially social services, public health services, and public safety, among others—often increases during times of great economic stress.

When demand increases, delivery of government services--like the delivery of private sector services—sometimes requires stabilization or even increases in levels of staffing. That being said, due to dramatic cuts in state aids and credits, Minnesota cities have already been doing more-with-less for years.

There are many good management strategies that public and private sectors can learn from each other. Assuming a one-size-fits-all approach, though, is ill-advised and can lead to faulty policy decisions. (Thank you to my friends at StrongTowns for flagging the Bloomberg piece on their Facebook page.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mayor Kautz to assume USCM presidency
Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth B. Kautz will be inaugurated tomorrow as the 68th President of The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) during a special inaugural ceremony at the Performing Arts Center in Burnsville.

Mayor Kautz, outgoing USCM Vice President, will serve the balance of former President Greg Nickel’s presidential term through June 2010 before serving a full term of her own as President of the organization until June 2011. She is assuming office now because Nickels was defeated for his re-election bid as Mayor of Seattle last fall.

Mayor Kautz was first elected as Mayor of Burnsville in 1994 and has been re-elected five times since. Her USCM presidential initiative will involve advancing economic development strategies for cities and regions throughout the nation, based on a successful local model utilizing cross-sector partnerships.