Opinion editor's note: This article was signed by members of 17 organizations that represent cities, counties, townships and school districts across Minnesota. Their names and affiliations are listed below.
Dear Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, and members of the Minnesota House and Senate:
As associations representing the state's local partners — its school districts, counties, cities and townships, encompassing all citizens of our state — we are aware of the significant challenges and needs local leaders face amid an uncertain economy and the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
During the 2022 legislative session, school district, county, city and township leaders articulated needs for state support, some of which received consideration in bills that were not finalized before the conclusion of the session. Challenges faced by your peers — our locally elected officials — are at a high point, and state resources play a critical role in the provision of many local services. There are many issues that need attention now and that should not wait until 2023.
We know you all understand the significant issues local governments are experiencing, and we appreciate the consideration given to local issues and needs during the session. As partners, we want to work with you on our legislative needs and priorities and why a special session is so important. We can provide many examples of pressing local needs. Generally, they include labor shortages that hinder the provision of public safety services, including police and fire staffing, rapidly escalating costs to provide local services, social services, and the education of Minnesota's students.
Local leaders are also working to improve deteriorating infrastructure but are doing so without appropriate state investments. There are urgent needs for funding the state's social service and mental health support services to address substantial challenges being experienced by families and communities. School districts are confronting widespread challenges for students that will only compound without necessary resources. Delays in addressing matching funds for the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and a bonding bill to address transportation, transit and infrastructure projects will result in higher costs, disjointed planning and economic losses.
Local governments also are faced with issuing local regulations as a result of the new THC law. Prompt establishment of a state framework and parameters for regulation, established by lawmakers in partnership with local governments, is needed now. Not addressing a framework until next year is a recipe for a patchwork quilt of local laws that are likely to be inconsistent from one community to another.
We are therefore writing to respectfully, yet strongly, encourage the prompt convening of a special session to finalize supplemental budget and tax bills, the development of a capital investment bill and other critical unfinished business, including state matching funds for the federal IIJA, addressing the growing special-education cross-subsidy, and addressing a framework for the regulation of cannabinoid products.
We call upon state leaders to continue engaging with us, your local government partners, to finalize legislation that will serve the entire state. The state's historically large budget surplus provides an unprecedented opportunity for Minnesota to address the state's immediate and critical needs. We ask all state leaders to use this opportunity and to return to the work at hand. Minnesota's local governments, and the state's residents, business, families and students are depending on you.
Now is the time for action: We stand ready to work with you and appreciate your attention to our request. Our constituents are your constituents. Let's work together in the next few weeks to complete the business started months ago and, in the end, benefit all Minnesotans.
Signatories to this article are Scott Croonquist, executive director, Association of Metropolitan School Districts; Todd Pratzer, president, Association of Minnesota Counties; Brian Holmer, president, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities; Ron Johnson, president, League of Minnesota Cities; Matt Stemwedel, president, Metro Cities (Association of Metropolitan Municipalities); Deb Henton, executive director, Minnesota Association of School Administrators; Cap O'Rourke, executive director, Minnesota Association of Small Cities; Gary Burdorf, president, Minnesota Association of Townships; Matt Massman, executive director, Minnesota Inter-County Association; Luke Johnson, chair, Minnesota Rural Counties; Kirk Schneidawind, executive director, Minnesota School Boards Association; James Hovland, chair, Municipal Legislative Commission; Jerry Koch, president, North Metro Mayors Association; Ida Rukavina, executive director, Range Association of Municipalities and Schools; Brenda Johnson, executive director, Southeastern Minnesota League of Municipalities; Brad Lundell, executive director, Schools for Equity in Education; and the following members of the Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors: Bob Byrnes, Marshall; Patrick Baustian, Luverne; Dave Smiglewski, Granite Falls; Myron Koets, Pipestone, and Mike Kuhle, Worthington.