Legislative wrap: more drinkers, fewer cops for Downtown

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June 9, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Bob Gilbert
Bob Gilbert

Later bar times and Guthrie funding please city leaders, but they fret over cuts to police, fire, education and poverty programs

If you believe Minneapolis state legislators, the results of the 2003 legislative session left the city less safe, less financially secure, less educated and with a lower quality of life.

State Republicans erased an estimated $4.4 billion, two-year budget shortfall without raising income taxes. However, state DFLers - the party of the city\'s entire legislative delegation - claim that its citizens will pay in higher property taxes.

Ironically, that might not be true in Minneapolis, where, before the legislative session, Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Councilmembers voted to raise the property tax levy by up to 8 percent per year. That amount was needed to reduce the city\'s debt, which increased during the 1980s and 1990s, and fund expected rises in employee health care and pension costs, among other expenses.

After the plan was enacted, legislators and Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut state support to Minneapolis by $59 million - approximately 10 percent of the city\'s general-fund budget in 2004 and 2005. Rybak has stated he will not support raising property tax levies above the 8 percent cap, so the state cuts will have to come from city spending.

Public safety

The Mayor and Council began the cost-cutting this spring, when they targeted 169 sworn and civilian police employees for layoffs. Of the 169, 101 positions were vacant. So far, no sworn officers have been axed, but 11 civilians were laid off, and several more took early retirement. More layoffs are expected in July.

Just-passed legislative cuts mean the city will have to trim $7 million more than expected in 2004 and cut an additional $12 million to meet the goals of the five-year spending plan. Public safety will undoubtedly take a hit, since historically the police budget makes up 38 percent of the city\'s general fund.

Additional legislative cuts eliminated funding for the Gang Strike Force, a statewide multi-city program. While Commissioner of Public Safety Rich Stanek may find money to fund the program, nothing has been settled yet. The legislature and Pawlenty did not fund the CriMNet program that would integrate law-enforcement computers statewide. The Hennepin County Sheriff\'s corrections budget lost $7 million.

Also, 43 Minneapolis firefighters lost their jobs.

Education

Despite Pawlenty\'s claims that education would be held harmless from cuts, state per-pupil aid was cut 2 percent - and there was no provision for inflation over the next two years. That will deepen the pain for school districts that weathered recent double-digit health insurance increases.

Minneapolis Public School officials estimate that they will have $5 million less next school year, resulting in layoffs of up to 400 teachers and 150 staff. Several specific programs used extensively in Minneapolis saw bigger cuts. Early Childhood Family Education, which offers classes for new parents, was cut 20 percent, and money for individuals with limited English proficiency was limited to five years.

Human services

The Hennepin County Health and Human Services Budget is a 600-page document, and many at the county are still trying to decipher what the precise ramifications of their cut will be. According to Linda Stein of the Hennepin County Intergovernmental Relation Department, the county estimates it will lose $80 million dollars over the next two years. That means an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 county residents may lose their state-sponsored health care - many live in Minneapolis, Stein says.

Childcare cuts for Minneapolis families total $3.5 million. The majority of the 10,000 families who have their childcare subsidized live in Minneapolis, according to Stein. The state raised the poverty line so that individuals who once qualified may now be making too much money to participate. A single parent with two kids earning a poverty-line wage ($14,630) had a co-pay of $5 a month but will now pay $59 month beginning July 1. Three-person families who earn 50 percent above the poverty line ($21,915) and paid a $67 monthly co-pay will be bumped up to $109.

Light rail/transportation

The state reneged on its promise made during the Ventura administration to pay for the operation of the Hiawatha Light Rail between Downtown\'s Warehouse District and the Mall of America. The legislature voted to make Hennepin County pay half the cost of operating the system, or $7 million over the next two years.

\"It reflects an anti-transit bias at the state legislature,\" said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, a longtime light-rail and mass-transit booster. \"The legislature did not fund the North Star corridor either [a heavy rail connecting Downtown to St. Cloud]. They cut back bus service dramatically, too.\"

Metro Transit was cut $11.4 million over the next two years. Bus fares will increase between 25 and 50 cents beginning July 1. Monthly bus passes will go up between $9 and $19 a month.

Tourism/arts

City officials claimed a victory when the legislature and Pawlenty allowed bars to close at 2 a.m. rather than the current 1 a.m. The Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau hailed the move as a way to lure conventions which had bypassed the city because of its earlier bar time.

A Downtown Guthrie Theater secured $25 million to build a new theater on the Mississippi River. That amount will be enough to break ground at the end of the summer, Guthrie officials say. However, the actual $25 million will not be given to the Guthrie until 2005 when they occupy their new building.

Bonding for the Planetarium, which was the city\'s top building priority, was not approved by the legislature. Despite that fact the library\'s foundation, which is currently under construction, has allowed space for the Planetarium. The Library Board and the City Council will decide the Planetarium\'s fate in the near future.

The state threatened but did not withdraw $750,000 in annual support for Target Center, 600 1st Ave. N.

Bureaucracy

The legislature allowed the city to merge the Minneapolis Community Development Agency - technically an independent entity - with the city\'s Planning Department. The new agency will be known as Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) and will be part of city government.

Another bill allowed the city to appoint individuals, change job titles or create new ones without state approval. Previously all appointed positions needed the state\'s OK. Now, positions like the director of Public Works, city attorney and the city\'s lobbyists can be hired at will - provided the city can find the cash.