PoliGraph: Emmer wrong on LGA

If Republican Tom Emmer’s elected governor, he says he’ll restructure the way the state parcels out money to cities to eliminate what he says has been wasteful spending in the local government aid program.

To help sell his platform, Emmer frequently points out that aid isn’t spread evenly among Minnesota communities.

“I don’t know how many of your viewers understand that only about half the cities in this state get any local government aid and frankly only a handful get the lion’s share,” he said during a debate Sept. 17, 2010.

It’s a claim that he reiterated during a debate in St. Cloud Sept. 21, and that appears on part of his campaign website called EmmerTruth, meant to refute misinformation about the platform.

There’s little truth to this Emmer claim.

The Evidence

Emmer’s campaign said it could not back-up his claim that only half the cities in the state get aid. In fact, most do. This year, 85 percent of communities – or 727 out of 854 communities — will get local government aid after unallotment cuts, according to data supplied by the Minnesota State Legislature House Research Department, which tracks these payments annually.

Emmer’s second point, that a handful of communities get the most money, is more complicated. This year, the state will give out $426,535,440 in local government aid. Nearly half of that – about $200 million – goes to 14 cities, including Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, St. Paul, and Winona.

However, Emmer’s statement glosses over some important context. Local Government Aid was created to help towns with limited tax bases provide services to its residents. Funding is doled out based on a city’s fiscal needs and its ability to pay for them, as well as other factors, including population. So on one hand, it makes sense that large cities, like St. Paul or Minneapolis, would be getting a lot of money.

But dollar amounts don’t reveal much. To really understand how the state is spending the cash, it makes more sense to look at aid per capita. By this measure, some of the state’s smallest towns are getting the most money per person. For instance, Leonidas, population 57, got $35,240 this year, which breaks down to about $618 per person. By comparison, Minneapolis, population 390,000, got $63,986,731 in local government aid – or about $164 per person.

The Verdict

Emmer’s claim is fraught with inaccuracies. He’s wrong that only half of Minnesota communities are getting aid. It’s far more than that. And while Minneapolis and St. Paul come out on top in terms of dollars of aid, it’s the smallest cities in the state that are getting the most aid per person – precisely the aim of the local government aid program.

This claim is false.

Sources

The UpTake, transcript of the TPT Almanac debate, Sept. 17, 2010

Emmer for Governor, EmmerTruth: Tom Emmer Wants to Reform, Not Eliminate, Local Government Aid, accessed Sept. 23, 2010

Minnesota Public Radio News, City officials gloomily expect cuts to local government aid, by Dan Olson, Sept. 17, 2010

Minnesota2020, Phony LGA Statistics at AARP Debate, by Jeff Van Wychen, Sept. 21, 2010

Minnesota House Research Department, Governor’s December 2008 City Aid and Credit Cuts and Payments, Dec. 19, 2008

Minnesota House Research Department, 2009-2011 LGA certified and paid amounts, after the 2010 session, June 11, 2010

The Minnesota Department of Revenue, Final City Unallotment: 2009, accessed Sept. 23, 2010

The League of Minnesota Cities, Local Government Aid 101: 2009 Distribution & Beyond, updated April 2010

LGA payments by amount

LGA payments by per capita amount

Interview, Carl Kuhl, Emmer for Governor, Sept. 23, 2010

Interview, Lena Gould, Policy Analyst, League of Minnesota Cities

Interview, Jeff Van Wychen, fellow, Minnesota 2020, Sept. 23, 2010

Interview, Pat Dalton, House Research Department, Sept. 23, 2010

  • Adam Burnside

    Tom Emmer has a history of writing checks the facts can’t cash! Don’t forget he was the one running to the press saying the 2007 gas tax increase was the largest tax increase in modern Minnesota history. When pressed on the details he simply changed the subject, never once providing any evidence that this statement was true.

  • Janne

    As a Minneapolis resident, I’m much grumpier for having read this post. Reduce my services, make me pay for them, expect me to provide amenities like theaters and stadiums and economic engines to the rest of the state… oh, and I get to pay the special Twins Stadium tax, too.

    No wonder so many of us live in blissful ignorance.

  • http://www.fightinwords.us Walter Hudson

    You’re approaching the issue of LGA is if the money drops from the sky. Handing us back our own money is not charity.

    LGA needs to be restructured because it is a redistribution of wealth, control, and accountability – mostly benefiting politicians at the expense of their constituencies. If a city cannot provide services because its tax base is too small, how does that obligate residents in the rest of the state? It’s not as though LGA is a stopgap. It has become an institution which local politicians can use to shift blame to the state, and state politicians can use to dictate local policy.

  • http://www.shotinthedark.info MBerg

    So you’re going over off-handed remarks as if they’re formal campaign positions?

    And while some small cities get more aid per capita, it is a fact that Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth get 2.5x more aid per capita than the rest of the state, per capita.

  • Billy

    He should have just said none of the suburbs get LGA – that’s a fact. LGA is redistribution of wealth from the suburbs to everyone else.

    By the way, when are you going to fact check Dayton’s claims about ending state contracts? Ask him if the work is going to stop or if it will just be done by a union employee. His answer will put another $425 million hole in his budget plan.

    Your bias shows by what you choose to ignore in this feature.

  • George Hayduke

    Maybe that’s because cities like St. Paul have to spend so much money chasing after deadbeat property owners who refuse to clean up their property, right MBerg?

  • Robert Hutchinson

    The claim I have heard, and what I gather Emmer’s source was trying to tell him, is that 55% of Minnesotans live in communities that receive no LGA.

  • Ralph Crammedin

    @MBerg, which is it? Are you saying we shouldn’t trust what Emmer says, or we shouldn’t trust what’s printed on his web site, or both?

  • Ralph Crammedin

    @Billy, yeah, I’ve noticed that problem. Emmer gets caught in a flat out lie, and MPR goes right ahead and reports it, without even mentioning that your careful analysis has discovered some sort of inconsistency, that only you can describe, in a Dayton position. It’s bias, for sure.