Minnesotans can be proud of how cities across our state have stepped up in innovative ways to lead our communities through the pandemic. Tax bills have been delayed. Municipal utilities have temporarily stopped disconnecting customers for late payments. Loan and grant programs to help small businesses have been deployed at breakneck speed. And front-line workers continue to answer the call for public safety.
Cities across our state have done everything they can to support their communities. Yet as Congress has passed and debated various pieces of coronavirus relief legislation since mid-March, there has been one glaring omission.
While our cities have received some federal aid via pass through of the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund distribution, these funds can only cover certain unbudgeted expenses. They cannot be used to replace revenue lost due to the pandemic. Despite the unprecedented economic impact, not a single Minnesota city has received any direct federal aid that is flexible enough to cover unbudgeted costs related to COVID-19 response or to help alleviate the historic revenue losses due to the pandemic that will slow Minnesota’s economic recovery. If the problem is not addressed quickly, Congress will be choosing to pass the bill on to local taxpayers.
Direct, robust aid to cities is not about “bailing out” local governments that have lived beyond their means — it is about providing much-needed support to those that acted quickly to execute the national response. Minnesota cities of all sizes that were fiscally disciplined and strong before the pandemic have seen dramatic decreases in revenue and increased expenses. And now those cities are being faced with lose-lose choices like raising property taxes at a time of record unemployment or laying off firefighters, police and other essential workers.
We in city government must balance our budgets. We should not be left solely with the choice to balance our budgets on the backs of citizens, businesses and dedicated public servants. Without federal investment in local governments, our communities will be less safe, less healthy and less prosperous.
Cities, towns and villages across the country are calling for $500 billion in direct federal aid and economic relief over the next two years to support the communities on the front line of America’s response to COVID-19.
Local, nonpartisan officials understand the needs of our communities better than anyone. As the old saying goes, there is no red or blue way to fix a pothole. It is critical that funding for cities be flexible enough to allow for local communities to use the resources as needed.
Local governments have stepped up in 2020 and now we need the federal government to do its part. Congress must set aside the partisan rhetoric that has consumed our nation and invest now in local governments.
As local elected leaders of all political stripes from across the state, we ask our federal delegation to stand with us and lead the charge within their parties to build support for Minnesota cities and pass this critical funding before it is too late.
The authors are City Council members: Arik Forsman, Duluth; Michael Wojcik, Rochester; Michelle Toven, Grand Rapids; Jason Baskin, Austin; Michael Meehlhause, Bemidji; Jenna Carter, Bloomington; Mike Laven, Mankato.