During a crisis, cooperation among all levels of government — local, state, and federal — is essential for the well-being of our nation’s residents. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on the nation’s health and economy, city governments are in desperate need of federal assistance to address budget shortfalls and mounting costs related to COVID-19.
Without that assistance, cities in Minnesota and across the country will have little choice but to reduce core city services due to plummeting revenue. City governments employ essential workers who are responsible for the health and safety of our communities — police officers, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, sanitation workers. City service reductions can mean slower response times when emergencies occur and add further burden to the workloads of remaining public safety staff at a time when residents have perhaps the greatest need.
City officials in Minnesota appreciate the leadership, to date, shown by our partners at the state and federal levels in promoting the health and safety of our residents while working to mitigate the effects of a slumping economy. For example, the federal government has administered multiple stimulus packages providing short-term relief to businesses that have temporarily shuttered and to individuals who have lost jobs.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of our nation’s cities and towns — including the 853 cities in Minnesota — have been left out. Like many businesses, cities in our state employ thousands of workers who serve essential roles in our way of life. Funds that can be used to address current and future city revenue shortfalls, and to help cover the cost of those essential workers, have yet to be allocated in a direct federal response package.
About 80% of our nation’s population resides in cities and suburban areas. Yet only municipalities with populations exceeding 500,000 (a total of 36 U.S. cities) were eligible for aid under the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed into law in March.
None of Minnesota’s 853 cities meet that population threshold for eligibility.
In our state, the vast majority of cities have populations of less than 5,000 people. A fair and direct allocation of federal funds to every city, regardless of size, is necessary to replace lost revenue. A recent story in the Star Tribune noted that “Cities are losing taxes as businesses shut down, and they expect more losses from property tax delinquencies and nonpayments. Licensing and permit fee revenue are down along with user fee payments for shuttered parks, pools and recreation centers.”
We are hearing such stories from city officials throughout the state, and we are still in the early stages of this crisis. Cities are operating at the front lines during the pandemic, and municipal budgets are hanging on by a thread. Without federal investment in local governments soon, our communities will be less safe, less healthy, less prosperous.
The League of Minnesota Cities — the state’s largest municipal membership association — echoes a call made earlier this month to Congress from the National League of Cities for $500 billion in federal aid over the next two years to help cities and counties, regardless of size. As National League of Cities president Joe Buscaino notes, “This not a request for a handout, nor a call for a federal bailout — this is the extension of a partnership, a critical state-local-federal bond that we seek in order to rebuild and restore our great nation.”
The League of Minnesota Cities urges our state’s eight members of the U.S. House and its two U.S. senators to honor the partnership, and to support a bipartisan solution to remedy city financial challenges.
David Unmacht is executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities.