City sets legislative priorities; Guthrie subsidy, preserving state aid among top items

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January 6, 2003 // UPDATED 4:11 pm - April 27, 2007
By: Kevin Featherly
Kevin Featherly

Even in the face of a mammoth projected $4.5 billion state budget deficit, a City Council panel has approved the wish list it plans to take to the legislature when it reconvenes this week.

With the big state deficit in mind, the City Council unanimously approved its legislative agenda Dec. 30. It includes six core issues, along with a series of "supported" and "endorsed" items that rank lower on the priority scale.

Among the priorities the committee hopes to bring to the state are:

- Local government finance. This is a broad topic that boils down to the way the state will deal with Local Government Aids (LGA), state-financed property-tax-relief money that comprises 43 percent of the city's general-fund revenue base (property tax levies plus state aids).

- Government reform. This deals mainly with the "Focus Minneapolis" initiative, whose centerpiece is a new economic-development oversight agency -- the Community Planning and Economic Development office (CPED) -- that officials hope will streamline the process of doing business with the city.

- Affordable housing. The draft agenda approved by the panel recommends that the state increase funding for affordable housing.

- Bonding. If the committee's requests were granted -- which is less than certain -- the state would borrow to help pay for the Downtown planetarium ($30 million), the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone ($12 million), the Guthrie Theater ($35 million) and the Children's Theater ($12 million).

- Transportation. Bill Barnhart, a city government relations representative, told councilmembers not to hope for increased transportation funds given the budget crisis, but the panel nonetheless agreed to request funding for expanded light-rail and bus transit operations.

- Public safety. The council-members agreed to make various requests, including expanded funding for the online CriMNet system, more money for the 4th Judicial District Court system, continued funding of the state Gang Strike Force and bonding for an 800 MHz police radio system.

Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward), chair of the IGR committee, said that protecting local government aids tops the priority list. And while the budget crisis looks grave, he said, he thinks the city has a convincing story for an incoming governor and Republican House majority, both of whom stress government accountability.

Benson said that the city's Focus Minneapolis initiative is a poster child for accountability. The initiative would attempt to halt what Mayor R.T. Rybak has characterized as the practice of deal- making for city projects, replacing it with development cycles that force developers to compete for city funds.

Further, Benson said, the city can make a powerful argument that its aid money should not be cut. LGA funds go directly to the general fund, which is where the police and fire departments get virtually all of their money, and where street and bridge repairs get their cash.

"It would seem that the more we can make clear that LGA reductions means reductions in police, fire and road construction and those types of things, the better off we'll be," Benson told committee members.

Barnhart cautioned that the deficit means the status quo almost certainly will change.

"It would be my impression that if the state deficit had come in at the $2 [billion] to $3 billion range, the LGA program -- monitored correctly -- might have come out with minimal scathing."

But, he said, "at $4.5 billion, things will change."