LGA: Putting Off The Inevitable

Speed Gibson actually found Lori Sturdevant breaking her usual pattern:

Normally, Minneapolis Star Tribune opinion columnist Lori Strurdevant only questions why we plebians do not accept liberal orthodoxy as she has, not the orthodoxy itself. Today’s column on LGA (Local Government Aid) is a welcome exception, thoughtfully considering what State Representative Linda Runbeck (R-53A, Circle Pines) had to say about LGA. Runbeck chairs the House Property and Local Tax committee. Sturdevant asks:

What if, in 1971, Minnesota had not created local government aid (LGA)?

The column masthead has her answer:

If not for LGA, cities would spend (and have) less.

She based this on interviews with a number of current and former mayors, which made for a good column. She might have asked who has more if the cities have less. But back to the orignal question: what if LGA had never been invented?

For starters, we’d not only have less government – we’d have fewer of them:

Mayor Ness of Alexandia thinks 600 Minnesota cities would have ceased to exist today. That’s about 7 of every 10. But the real problem for most of these cities is declining population, leaving those who remain to support now oversized facilities. You can’t just get everyone to move closer in and unpave the outer ring of streets. LGA has put off their day of reckoning, but cannot save them indefinitely.

That may be one of the reasons North Dakota is faring so well; it hasn’t spent billions trying to save its’ small towns.  It’s been said that in fifty years, North Dakota will have eight cities left (the state’s census gains were out in the oil patch and, turning the “they’re doing well because of the oil!” logic on its’ head, Fargo, which is a good 200 miles from the nearest wellhead.  If you drive across the prairie, down Highway 281 or 200 or US1 or any of the other two-lane roads that bump and grind their way across the steppe,  you run into not a few ghost towns, or towns like Cleveland, just off of I94 between Jamestown and Medina, a town that used to have 200-odd people, a school, and – even when I lived 20 miles away, in the  eighties – the remnants of a little downtown. It’s around 70 people now.

In Minnesota, we’d be pumping state money in to help those towns of 70 pay for infrastructure that they haven’t needed in a generation.

Speed – Rex is is real name, but once you start calling someone “Speed”, it’s very hard to stop – turns toward the conclusion:

So I ask: what problem did LGA really solve? I answer: none. Government is a zero sum game. The money to prop up inefficient service providers must come from the more efficient providers. The irony is that while cities like Bemidji receive LGA, that same program negatively affects their population. Could it be that the only real winners are the really big cities who receive the really big slices of LGA: Minneapolis and St. Paul? Cities contemplated as payers, not payees in the original 1971 law? Cities with lengendary overspending and accountability issues?

That’s the point that the DFL wants to keep obscuring; while the original stated purpose of LGA was to help lower property taxes for cities whose infrastructure needs outstripped the population’s ability to pay – building water treatment plants and police stations and schools in towns that couldn’t afford them, then or now – it has become a subsidy for big, bad, profligate urban DFL mismanagment; the Twin Cities, Duluth and Rochester get twice as much LGA per capita as the rest of the state, and that’s with the “the rest of the state” including the cities housing a third of the population that get no LGA at all.

Let me also ask: what good would it do to double LGA? Would Minneapolis hire more police? Doubtful. Would St. Paul fill potholes faster? Of course not. Would our schools get any better? Health care? Transportation? No, we’d just get yet another load of community development and green energy.

I’m not totally opposed to some form of LGA as I said in my previous post on property tax reform. The economies of scale have shifted significantly. Acres served drive costs as well as population. And the State of Minnesota has no doubt burdened outstate governments with additional paperwork and expensive big city mandates on energy, pollution, and construction. But that LGA must indeed go outstate, not to the Twin Cities, who never did need it.

Well, that’s not quite true.

The Twin Cities engineered a “need” for LGA.  By tying essential services – police, fire and so on – to LGA, they essentially hold their citizens hostage, as far as (the media will let) the citizens know.

7 thoughts on “LGA: Putting Off The Inevitable

  1. “By tying essential services – police, fire and so on – to LGA, they essentially hold their citizens hostage, as far as (the media will let) the citizens know”

    City leaders that do this sort of thing, begging residents of other cities for money to cover their basic expenses, hurt the reputation of their city and their citizens. :-/

  2. Money is fungible.

    When I give the panhandler in the Rainbow parking lot $2 so he can eat lunch at McDonalds, he new can afford to spend the $2 in his pocket on a tap beer at the Trend Bar. My “dedicated funding” didn’t change his behavior for the better, it subsidized bad behavior.

    LGA: St. Paul: murals, sculptures, poet laureate, street theatre grants, outdoor refrigerated hockey rinks, solar panels on Rivercentre . . . but never snow plows.

    Cities would have spend less and would have less. Damned right, and a good thing, too, because taxpayers would have MORE so they could spend MORE on the stuff THEY would like to have, thereby stimulating the economy to create a rising tide that would lift all boats to the point people could afford to buy their own murals, sculptures, and solar panels.


  3. If the little cities disappear do the residents disappear too? Are they forced to commit Sepuku? Does Pumpkinhead come out of the corn field and eat them? Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. I made a trip into North Dakota this past winter…..the part of the state that is still being depopulated. Interesting, to see all these empty towns. But you can’t artifically put them on life-support.

    Kermit….where do the people go? There was a town in the news a while back…..100% of the graduating class is going off to college. So 100% of the 18 year olds are gone. Kind of a curse of having really good schools and really smart people and really good families. Maybe 1 or 2 will come back to work as an ag advisor or teacher or something like that. But if the school closes (those 3,000 acre farms don’t support a lot of families), then the teachers and their families leave. Or at least new ones don’t move in.

  5. When I lived in Duluth, some of us on the right would look at the spending and entitlements and wonder where all that money was coming from (I didn’t know about LGA then). We said this isn’t sustainable.

    Haven’t heard any updates lately, but Duluth’s pubic employees pension and benefits fund was extremely under funded. And I mean extremely. Not sure if Mayor Ness has had success in working on that.

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  7. Towns die all the time. It’s a natural part of civic evolution.

    I used to drive from Kimball to St. Cloud on Hwy 15, about 20 miles apart. That road goes right through Maine Corners. Or where Maine Corners used to be, anyway. There once was a thriving community before the railroads came. One line went North to St. Cloud, the other line went South to Kimball. Trade, commerce, farm-to-market shipping – it all went where the railroad went.

    The residents literally picked up the town and moved it, mostly to Kimball, which was closer. Pulled apart board buildings, loaded them in horse-drawn wagons, re-assembled them on new locations. I suppose you could say the government killed that town, picking winners and losers, when it chose the railroad route. But not one penny of taxpayer money was spent on preserving a dead town. The residents simply picked up and moved on with their lives.

    There’s a road-side marker there now. We could afford lot of roadside markers for what we’re paying to subsidize dead towns nowadays.

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