Dozens of cities across Minnesota are passing resolutions opposing bills introduced in the Legislature that they say would strip away the decisionmaking powers of local government.
The resolutions, sent out in March by the League of Minnesota Cities, point to more than 30 bills proposed by legislators this session. Some will not make it to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk this year, while others are being wrapped into various omnibus bills.
Local government leaders have gone so far as to call the bills an “attack” on cities and an example of a growing trend of proposed state laws undermining local authority.
A letter sent to House and Senate leaders by the League and affiliated groups revealed a potential rift between the different levels of government.
“It has been really frustrating because legislators say that they support local control and they think that ... their own cities are being run very well,” said Anne Finn, assistant intergovernmental relations director for the League of Minnesota Cities. “But then they’ll check out one issue and try to apply it to all the cities.”
More than 50 cities have passed resolutions supporting local decisionmaking since March, according to the League. They include Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding metro area suburbs, including Minnetonka and St. Louis Park. About 20 of the cities have a populations of fewer than 5,000 residents.
The list of bills they’re protesting covers everything from prohibiting cities from banning or taxing plastic bags (proposed by citizens in Duluth) to restricting the Metropolitan Council’s ability to undertake light-rail projects. They would affect local government aid, law enforcement practices and how cities pass ordinances.
One bill in particular would prevent cities from passing their own ordinances on minimum wage, paid sick leave and other labor rules. Bill sponsor Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said it is unlikely Dayton will sign off on it.
“I’m disappointed, but the result will be an extensive patchwork” of laws across the state, he said.
Garofalo said he disagrees that his bill is an attempt to reduce the power of cities, and that the resolutions simply express the cities’ desire to continue receiving resources and funding from the state.
City officials, on the other hand, said their opposition comes down to a need for state lawmakers to trust the elected leaders closest to their constituents.
“They’re kind of being a big brother to us: ‘You don’t know what you’re doing so we have to manage you by changing laws,’ ” said Mike Mornson, city manager of Hopkins, which in April passed a resolution opposing the bills.
Lois Nelson, the mayor of Medford, a city of fewer than 1,500 in Steele County, had stronger words for legislators.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” she said. “I think we’re quite capable of addressing the needs of our own community.”
As the Legislature enters the final weeks of its session, the League hopes legislators will be motivated to consider how the bills could restrict the power of local government.
“Our hope is that we will get the attention of legislators so at least they know that their local elected officials are paying attention ... [and that] they’ll think twice about introducing or voting for these provisions,” Finn said.
Much of the rest of the legislative session will be spent on budget negotiations; a balanced budget must be approved by May 22.
But Finn and Jill Sletten, the executive director of the Minnesota Association of Small Cities, said bills introduced this session can be heard again next year.
“We see this as a trend in most states nationally,” Sletten said of the proposed bills. “And if we leave the door open just a little bit, the next year the door will get wider and wider.”
Nelson said the bills would just add “another layer of bureaucracy” over Medford’s ability to pass and discuss its own laws.
“Just take care of the big-picture items there in the Legislature ... and leave the community operations to the folks that were elected to do so,” she said.