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Update: Mayors hail Pawlenty decision to preserve LGA payments

City and county officials in Minnesota are breathing a big sigh of relief this afternoon with the news that Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not unallot the $437 million in Local Government Aid payments scheduled for later this month.

But future payments could be in jeopardy, the governor said.

Although he’s traveling in Brazil, Pawlenty issued a letter saying he won’t take executive action to reduce the December local aid payments. There’d been much angst around the state that the governor would start the cuts needed to resolve a projected $1.2 billion state deficit by holding back some of the money scheduled to go out in LGA.

But Pawlenty said in the letter: “Given the imminent expected payment of December local aid, I have determined that additional local aid program cuts, if any, should be focused on future payments.”

The two Minnesota mayors who represent the Coalition for Greater Minnesota wasted no time in praising the governor for his decision.

“We applaud and thank Governor Pawlenty for recognizing that Minnesota cities have hit the financial edge and additional cuts would jeopardize public safety and do further harm to our fledging economy,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden.

“Over the past year we have done everything we can to speak out for cities across the state to show how critical services like police, fire, snowplowing, libraries and property taxes have been affected by continued cuts to local government aid,” they said in a joint statement.

“Over the past seven years Minnesota cities have lost $754 million in LGA and the consequences have been profound — a 64% increase in property taxes and significant cuts to core services like police, fire, snow plowing and libraries,” they said.

“As a major winter storm is bearing down on us, the critical role our cities play in the lives of our citizens is no more apparent than today. Across the state, cities are battling the storm by plowing streets, dropping salt and doing everything we can to protect the safety of Minnesota families. All of us know that this comes at a cost.

“We look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature in the upcoming session to ensure our cities will continue to be protected,” the statement said.

On Friday, the mayors had urged Pawlenty to call the Legislature back into session early to deal with the latest budget shortfall. Later that day, Pawlenty rejected such a move.

In his letter today, Pawlenty said that if the Legislature doesn’t pass what he called “appropriate budget reductions,” future aid payments would likely be reduced.

To deal with the deficit, Pawlenty has asked legislative leaders to start committee hearings immediately to craft budget reductions that could be enacted when the Legislature returns to session Feb. 4. And he’s ordered state government agencies to begin holding back a portion of their spending for possible cuts.

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