The cost of maintaining local roads is an increasingly difficult burden to bear for many of Minnesota’s smallest cities. A bill held over Thursday by the House Transportation Finance Committee for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill could throw those communities a lifeline.
Minnesota cities of under 5,000 residents aren’t eligible for state highway aid for their local roads, though a 2015 transportation bill funneled some funding toward through the Small Cities Assistance Program.
“Small cities could use a partner,” said Tony Chladek, the city administrator for Rushford, a southeastern Minnesota town of around 1,700. “Now, we tackle road maintenance on our own.”
HF1550, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley) would allocate General Fund revenues for city road aid through a new funding formula for the Small Cities Assistance Program, as well as a new program that would be established for cities that do receive municipal state-aid street funds.
“We have [small] town streets, city streets in need of repair,” Backer said. It’s the state’s responsibility, he added, “to help our partners.”
A companion bill, SF 1358 sponsored by Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids), awaits action in the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.
The General Fund dollars would come from a combination of sources:
Some lawmakers expressed concern the bill would simply take funding from other parts of the state in need of transportation dollars in order to give it to another.
But officials from small cities who testified Wednesday said the state dollars are sorely needed. The increasing age of local roads in many small communities — and the rising price to fix them — leaves many of Greater Minnesota’s communities struggling to keep their city streets in good repair.
“We see the cost of maintaining our streets as the single greatest threat” to Grand Rapids’ continued viability, said Rick Blake, a Grand Rapids City Council member.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to use mediation to resolve a funding dispute. In an opinion issued Friday, the court also ruled that Dayton’s use of the line-item veto to strip biennial funding for the Legislature was constitutional.
A Ramsey County judge on Wednesday ruled that Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of legislative funding violated the state’s constitution.
House and Senate leadership OK a resolution to seek outside legal representation in an effort to restore funding for the Legislature that Gov. Mark Dayton line-item vetoed earlier this week.
Day three of the 2017 special session saw lawmakers pass final omnibus bills to be sent to Gov. Mark Dayton, with weary House members wrapping up their work at 2:42 a.m. Friday following a week of long days — and nights — at the State Capitol.
Lawmakers on conference committees must sort through competing bills before finalizing a product to send to the governor.
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