Chanting Points Memo: “LGA Cuts Are Destroying Minnesota!” (Part II)

Question:  Has your disposable income gone up 44% in the past ten years?

 As I noted yesterday, Local Government Aid was originally set up to transfer wealth from the wealthy Twin Cities to smaller towns in then-poor outstate Minnesota.  To a great extent, it worked; outstate Minnesota came a long way very quickly, in what was called “The Minnesota Miracle”. 

One of the cities in outstate Minnesota that benefitted from Local Government Aid nearly forty years ago was Brainerd.  The capitol of Minnesota’s lake country tourist district, Brainerd was and is a sleepy town of about 18,000 year-round, whose area swells to six digits on a summer fishing weekend.

But the cuts in Local Government Aid have apparently hobbled plucky Brainerd; as Jeff Rosenberg of MNPublius plaintively pleaded earlier this week:

How bad have local government spending cuts become? The city of Brainerd has started turning off the lights:

Selected streetlights – in alleys, in mid blocks and duplicates at intersections – started being shut off by the utility in early May in response to the Brainerd City Council’s direction to reduce the street lighting budget by $91,000. Brainerd Public Utilities Superintendent Tom Phelps told the Personnel and Finance Committee that in addition to shutting off lights he’s been reducing wattage in downtown decorative lights and looking at switching to LED lights.

Now, if you’re a typical homeowner and provider for a family in these tough times, you might be forgiven for responding “Good!  Let them cut back!”  I mean, Rosenberg even notes that the street and alley lights that are the subject of this tragedy are duplicates, or ones found in the middle of the block, or in some of the alleys in sleepy, relatively crime-less Brainerd.  It’s a selective  cut, not a wholesale blackout.  There’s no indication that any of the lighting is essential to safety; they’re redudant and/or decorative!

Unless your point of view is that no government “service”, no matter now non-critical, shall ever want for even the most trivial nonessential funding, what is the fuss about these “cuts?”  Indeed, if we go through a year without any problems from the shut-off lights, could it be fairly asked if the lights were needed in the first place?

But no mind.  The “service” is being cut, we’re told by the left and media (pardon the redundancy) because Brainerd’s Local Government Aid has been gutted.  Jeff ask  – and, since MNPublius is as close to being an institutional voice of the DFL as exists in the Twin Cities blogosphere, we can assume this is part of the Party’s portfolio of chanting points – “How bad have local government spending cuts become?”

Good question.

I checked League of Minnesota Cities   website, which includes tax and LGA data for much of recorded history.   In it we see that Brainerd’s allotment of Local Government Aid has gamboled around a bit:

  • 2002: $4,005,088
  • 2003: $3,488,947
  • 2004: $3,488,947
  • 2005: $9,739,034
  • 2006: $4,019,438
  • 2007: $3,904,428
  • 2008: $3.958.462
  • 2009: $4.186.234

In other words, Brainerd’s share of Local Government Aid took a quick dip in 2002, when Pawlenty started the cuts, and returned quickly to…

…almost a $200,000 increase.

In the meantime, property taxes for the same period looked like this:

  • 2002: $1,,620,757
  • 2003: $,2937,920
  • 2004: $2,500,872
  • 2005: $2,804,037
  • 2006: $3,198,474,
  • 2007: $3,510,360
  • 2008: $3,816,641
  • 2009: $3,962,752
  • Brainerd’s property tax levy increased by 235%!

    This table shows the bookends of the Pawlenty years – 2002 versus 2009 LGA and property tax levies:

    Funding Source 2002 2009 Change ($) Change (%)
    Brainerd LGA “$4,005,088” “$4,186,234” “$181,146 “ 101.18%
    Brainerd Levy “$1,620,757” “$3,962,752” “$2,341,995 “ 235.48%
    Brainerd Population “13,421” “13,954”    
    Brainer LGA/Capita $298 $300    

    The amount of Local Government Aid per resident has risen by $2; LGA has risen by a percent and change since Pawlenty took office, while Brainerd more than doubled their taxes to “make up for the LGA shortfall”.   

    So – for the entire period of “dislocation” “cause” by Pawlenty’d “cuts”, the total Brainerd City take between property taxes and LGA only dropped once – by $75,000 (1.5%), in 2003.  Between the steady LGA payments and the skyrocketing property taxes, Brainerd’s take from these two sources has zoomed from $5.62 million to over $8.14 million during Pawlenty’s administration.  That’s a 44% increase in overall savings. 

    It’s ahead of inflation, overall.  It’s well ahead of wage increases for the private sector, overall. 

    So what’s with all the whinging about huge cutbacks?  Forget about asking why they’re complaining about shutting off some non-essential lights; why are they shutting them off at all?

    What are they spending money on so that they (and the DFL) can spin a steady LGA payment and a 44% overall increase in LGA and Property Tax combined revenue as a poverty case with a straight face?


    So that’s Brainerd – one of the cities LGA was originally supposed to help.

    So how does this play out around the state? 

    If you believe the DFL and Media (pardon the redundancy)’s conventional wisdom, the cities have had their local aid gutted, leading to their budgets falling apart.

    Could that be true?

    More tomorrow.

    10 thoughts on “Chanting Points Memo: “LGA Cuts Are Destroying Minnesota!” (Part II)

    1. Just wait until some drunk up der has a fatal wreck on their snowmobile due to the street light being out. I can hear it now… “Timmeh Pawlenty, hey hey, how many have your LGA cuts killed today?”

    2. Enh. I set up the spreasheet wrong.

      You’re right; it’s more like 4%. LGA rose even more than I thought.

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    4. Sorry Penigma, but I clearly understand it just fine.

      City revenues across MN between LGA and property taxes increase 34% over eight years. That’s 4.25%, which is ahead of the inflation rate, and far far far ahead of private-sector (taxpayer) pay increases.

      Leaving aside that government does NOT deserve automatic cost increases – it can and should shrink as times get tight – your reliance on ad-homina rather than reasoning lets you down again.

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