Minneapolis politician, facing day-job layoff, grapples with tax vote

Carol Becker holds an obscure job among Minneapolis elected officials: She’s a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation. The BET sets the city’s maximum property tax levy, which the mayor, City Council and Park Board can’t exceed.

For many years, Becker has participated in an online forum I helped create in the late ’90s, Minneapolis Issues. She’s been diligent about educating participants, not only about the BET, but about city finances in general. But Wednesday, she asked for help — in a remarkably open and personal way for a public official.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has proposed a 6.5 percent property tax increase, mostly to deal with pension obligations. The mayor has since asked for an extra percent to deal with possible state cuts to local government aid.

Becker is no taxophobe — as you’ll see from her note below, she believes the city faces cuts that “wouldn’t get to bone, it wouldn’t get to meat — it would get to the heart.”

However, she is about to be laid off from her day job (BET commissioners aren’t paid much). Therefore, she — like many Americans facing fixed or reduced incomes — is sweating a tax hike she says will translate to at least 12 percent on the city portion of property taxes.

I offer her query up for comment, with one request: that your responses be as thoughtful as her question. Attacking hot-button city spending line items that don’t add up to much won’t solve the problem. Neither will some magical new revenue source which may make sense down the road but won’t help Becker this year.

She can’t kill or create programs. She can only vote on the city’s request, or offer a lower maximum. 

Becker’s note:

Here is the decision that I am having to grapple with.

The Mayor has proposed a budget which includes a property tax increase of 7.5 percent. But because of creating a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district for the (city-owned) Target Center and NRP (Neighborhood Revitalization Program) and some other complex movements in the tax base, the average homeowner is facing more like a 12-14 percent increase.

Implicit in this is a LGA amount of $87 million. Given the state is facing budget Armageddon, it is possible we could receive anywhere from $0 to $87 million.

LGA has been one of the first things cut at the State and we can expect this to occur again although we won’t know how much until we are substantially into the budget year. Also, how much will depend on who is elected governor, also something we won’t know until late into the year.

We have been making budget cuts for ten years now. The streets are already coming apart. The parks are not being maintained. Crime is down but not as low as we would like, especially in certain parts of town. murders and gang activity have ticked back up.

If LGA is cut more towards zero than $87 million, we could be looking at our own budget Armageddon, closing parks, closing fire stations and laying off a hundred cops or more. This wouldn’t get to bone, it wouldn’t get to meat — it would get to the heart. Decisions that not only degrade our homes but threaten our lives and hurt us in the long-term. We could go the way of other core cities, something we have aggressively avoided up until now.

People are hurting — really hurting. Wages cut, hours cut, jobs lost. I myself am being laid off from my full-time position at the end of the month. So I know this pain as well as anyone. It is galling to me to ask anyone for more money in this environment.

So I ask the group for wisdom — what should I do? Should I go with the Mayor’s recommendation, knowing it would be a 12-14 percent increase in city taxes for may residents? If I go lower, I may be setting the
City up for a worse problem as the state shifts its problem to us. Layoffs could be larger than they would be with the Mayor’s recommendation if I don’t.

For this scale of money, there is no tweak, no “around the edges” of budget cutting — this would be hacking at critical activities. I can’t imagine going higher, even though it may mean preserving important things about our community like our streets and our parks.

Input? Thoughts?

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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 08/27/2010 - 08:25 am.

    Carol,

    Not to sound like a Republican, but has the City “really” looked at places where it can cut, consolidate, or pass the buck (so to speak) to other jurisdictions that do the same or similar services? The Civil Rights Department comes to mind. Also I know we had a huge discussion about it last year, but do we really need a separate Park Board and Park Police? Can Mpls become greater partners with Hennepin County with some services?

    I know it’s not ideal but as you yourself mentioned in your note, we are in a dire financial situation. Let’s focus on funding those core services and not duplicate services because of politics or because the City always did it that way. Hopefully through these consolidations or elimination of duplications maybe that increase is cut in half.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/27/2010 - 08:54 am.

    Carol, why is it that cities always “go for the heart” of city services in tight budgetary times?

    Seems to me that everyone agrees a city should provide clean water, police and fire services,and maintained streets.

    Why wouldn’t you take these vital services, put them in the “must do” pile, then subtract the cost of that pile from the budget.

    What is left is available for the “want to do” pile. Since it is going to be twice the size of the “must do” pile and will cost more than is left, *that* is where you start cutting.

    If people demand that the city continue to provide things they “want to do”, there should be little to complain about when their taxes rise to pay for it.

    Starting out by threatoning to cut core services is a cynical ploy that doesn’t work with today’s more informed public. Your plea for help leads one to believe you have a genuine concern for doing the right thing; just do it.

  3. Submitted by Joseph Skar on 08/27/2010 - 09:14 am.

    Given the DFL’s passion for taxation why not eliminate the property tax and institute a city income tax.

  4. Submitted by John Olson on 08/27/2010 - 09:49 am.

    To follow along with Mr. Swift’s approach (“must do” and “want to do” which makes sense), which category does the TIF district really fall into? Just asking….

  5. Submitted by Joseph Skar on 08/27/2010 - 10:13 am.

    The city income tax that I’m proposing would work two fold for the DFL. 1) It could solve the tax shortage 2) The tax could prove that income earners don’t care what tax rate they pay if they like the area, a reverse South Dakota theory. What’s the worst that could happen…decades of tax theory is proven wrong and nobody wants to live/work in Minneapolis. I love this idea of a micro level test of Dayton’s tax theory by the voters that support the his tax theory the most.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/27/2010 - 10:28 am.

    Ya know, the thing about imaginary governments that don’t try to prioritize is that by and large in the US they don’t exist. You really think city, county, and state government have been coping with smaller budgets without prioritizing service cuts? Do you rally think “must have” and “wan to have” decisions have not been made in the last 8-10 years? Do you really think they’ve to gotten closing fire stations and laying off 100 cops without trying to figure out what’s essential and what isn’t?

    Maybe someone should have asked these questions BEFORE they cut state aid. Maybe someone should have done the math. How much per capita does $87 million cost five million people? How much per capita $87 million cost 370 thousand people? Given the population of any given city how much will you have to raise property taxes to compensate for lost state aid? Oh well, who need math when you have magic.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/27/2010 - 10:58 am.

    Paul, Dean mentioned the Civil Rights Department, which is a good point to start with.

    The city of St. Paul created its own CRD last year and the mayor appointed one of his longtime underlings to head it up. The cost?

    A little over a $mil per year, not including office space.

    Now that may not sound like a lot to the big spenders out there, but consider that within three blocks of SP’s CRD you’ll find the Ramsey County CRD and the state of Minnesota CRD.

    I asked Mayor Coleman about this during one of his “woe is us” meetings last winter, when he was claiming that he was being “forced” to cut firemen. His response was, “human rights are something that is important to this city”.

    That may well be true for many, maybe even most people in Saint Paul; but I highly doubt it fits in the top 500 important things for a guy living in Marshall that just got hit with a substantial pay reduction, and whose taxes go to fund LGA for Saint Paul.

    It also probably wouldn’t fly for the guy whose house burns to the ground because a triply redundant human rights department was deemed more important than firemen.

    The point is, people in cities are free to include services most reasonable people would conclude are not crucial into the contents of their own “must do” piles….just as long as they are willing to pay for them.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/27/2010 - 11:08 am.

    “A little over a million dollars per year, not including office space.”

    Don’t know what happened there, guess dollar signs don’t come through the filter.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/27/2010 - 11:08 am.

    As long as there’s one paper-pushing city bureaucrat on the payroll, not one cop or firefighter should lose his job.

    And I’d love to see Mpls impose an income tax. I’m sure that would increase my chances of selling my Saint Paul home.

  10. Submitted by Mohammed Ali Bin Shah on 08/27/2010 - 12:41 pm.

    “If LGA is cut more towards zero than $87 million, we could be looking at our own budget Armageddon, closing parks, closing fire stations and laying off a hundred cops or more.”

    It’s always parks and cops with the DFL. Why not cut all salaries by 10%, pass on all healthcare premium increases to the employees, and move all workers to a 401K retirement plan instead of costly pensions?

  11. Submitted by Joseph Skar on 08/27/2010 - 01:29 pm.

    Great thread but why have we yet to see an potential solutions from the left? Party of Ideas 3, Progressives -0-. I believe the blogger is a Minneapolis resident too, so where is his plan?

  12. Submitted by Carol Becker on 08/27/2010 - 02:09 pm.

    Carol Becker here. Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to my question.

    To respond to a couple points:

    Has the City gone through a prioritization process? The City has been budget cutting for ten years now. There were about 6000 employees in 2003 and there are 5000 today. The vast majority of money is going to what folks think of as basic services – police, fire, street repair, parks – and services needed to support these activities, like running the finance system, running the human resources system, etc. The amount of money goes to things like the Civil Rights Department or to the NRP program or things like that is pretty small. The “must do” pile already is where the vast majority of money is spent. So I don’t mean to be cynical about having to cut things that are vital – that is just where the budget is.

    And for the things that some folks may think of as “nice to have,” other folks think are vital (like the Civil Rights Department). Everything in the budget right now that some constituency has fought to keep. Your individual values may differ but the budget does reflect the collective values of the community.

    Also, getting partners or changing how things report does not save much (if any) money. The same number of streets need to be plowed regardless of who the plow driver reports to.

    As to an income tax, that isn’t something in the purview of the City of Minneapolis to institute. I have talked about opening up the Minneapolis Sales Tax to other uses but that revenue source has declined substantially with the economy. It would not be able to provide any real amount of money to address this current problem.

    As to the paper-pushing bureaucrats, most of them are out there supporting people like fire fighters and cops so they don’t spend their time pushing paper.

    And as to the idea of cutting government employee wages, we have already done this. Last year, for example, the City employees got no increase last year. I know that the previous six years also was substantially less than inflation. So they have already been taking cuts. And I would also be more inclined to do this if I thought that government employees would get bonuses or bigger increases in good years to offset the bad. Oftentimes people in the private sector comment about wage increases in government during bad times but never during good when they receive raises or bonuses. But there never seems to be a good time to give bonuses or increases to government employees. At some point, you are not able to attract good applicants because your wages are so low. And you don’t want poorly qualified individuals running your government, which is what you get when you can’t attract decent applicants.

    I think that people like to think that somehow that government is horribly inefficient, spending money on all sorts of unnecessary things and all we need to do is focus on what is important. But we already do focus on the things that are vital. The problem is that with the potential cuts from the State, we won’t be able to support even those.

    If folks have other ideas, feel free to contact me at beckermpls@ gmail.com.

  13. Submitted by Gary Thaden on 08/27/2010 - 02:20 pm.

    Eliminate the Civil Rights Department. That is the one that is always pointed to for the city of Minneapolis to eliminate as a duplication of services. So the City Council votes next week to eliminate the Civil Rights Department as of September 30, 2010. Does that save any money for 2011? Maybe, but you need think of things like:

    Unemployment compensation costs for the lay off.
    Do the people in the Civil Rights Department bump other city employees and thus cost disruption and retraining costs for other departments?
    What do you do for the civil rights complaints that are already in the pipeline?
    Is the State Human Rights Department going to add staff to pick up the slack?
    Civil Rights as other duties including training other city employees and enforcing compliance to city contracts, do you keep those people? and
    The Civil Rights Department budget is 2 million dollars per year, where does the other 85 million dollars come from?

    Cutting city employee wages and pensions is another idea set forth. But those wages and benefits have to be agreed to by the employees and their representatives. Under state law those measures cannot be instituted unilaterally by the city. And how long would that take and would they agree?

    Cut Park Board and Park Board Police. Not a city function or under the control of the City. That is a function of the Park Board which is a separate taxing jurisdiction. Whether it is a good idea or not, it does not get to the issues in the City Budget.

    City income tax idea. This would have to be passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor before the city could do it, which is very doubtful. No local jurisdiction in Minnesota has a local individual income tax; there are local sales taxes, but no local individual income tax. So, the Legislature convenes in January, debates the issue, passes it in April or May and the Minneapolis City Council enacts it in June or July. Does in start right away in the middle of most individual’s tax year or do you wait for it to go into effect in January 2011? How do you keep those most able to pay a Minneapolis individual income tax from moving out of the city? Would it be running counter to efforts to get people to move back into the city?

    Finally, Ms. Becker and her family have a tough choice. None of the comments so far help her.

  14. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/27/2010 - 02:23 pm.

    “Why not cut all salaries by 10%, pass on all healthcare premium increases to the employees, and move all workers to a 401K retirement plan instead of costly pensions?”

    Sounds like you’re trying to get them all a job where I work, MABS.

  15. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/27/2010 - 03:36 pm.

    “Your individual values may differ but the budget does reflect the collective values of the community.”

    Thank you Carol, I think I made that same point.

    So, if the people of the city of Minneapolis collectively like things the way they are, they should be ready to pay for them, and not to expect those who disagree with those value judgments to foot the bill.

    But please excuse me if I doubt that the list of “want to do” programs and services has been exhausted, but please understand that is exactly what my city council said last year when it proposed raising the property tax by the maximum amount allowed by law.

    After a few of my neighbors and I showed up to object, however, the council didn’t have too awfully much trouble finding enough programs and services to cut that the majority of us agreed might be nice, but were certainly not critical. We agreed upon an increase of just over 1.5% when the council promised to plan for $0 LGA for next year without raising the tax again.

    It’s a matter of how motivated people are to find cost savings in tough times.

    As an example for Minneapolis, you say city workers haven’t received a raise, but does that include step increases? I’m guessing not.

    ——————-

    Gary, if your city is agreeing to union contracts that are bankrupting it, that is a problem I heartily encourage you to take up with your council, or prepare to pay.

    If you and your neighbors decide the benefits and salaries of your public workers are sacrosanct, that is certainly your right. But again, that fecklessness on their part, or over-generosity on yours is not something the rest of the states taxpayers should have to pay the price for.

  16. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/27/2010 - 04:48 pm.

    It sounds like Mr. Swift is not entirely pleased with his private sector employment. To paraphrase what someone blithely suggested to me when I once made the mistake of mentioning in public that I was paid less than a trash collector, despite being required by the state to have a college degree and a license to practice, “Get another job, Mr. Swift.” Business rhetoric says the state of the economy doesn’t matter if you’re skilled and you present yourself well; if you’re Caucasian, your ethnicity will work in your favor, even in the multicultural metro Twin Cities; and if the new employer isn’t willing to pay you for your skills and experience at a level that you’d like, well, welcome to capitalism. If my casual suggestion annoys you, you may rest assured that the suggestion annoyed me at the time, too.

    Actually, Mr. Swift, you did NOT make “…that same point…” as Carol regarding the collective values reflected in the budget. What I read in Swiftian commentary is displeasure, not only with the collective values of YOUR community, but with the collective values of OTHER communities, as well. You’re welcome to be displeased with all of them, of course, and curmudgeonry (which I occasionally share as a Certified Old Person) sometimes has value, but asserting that those who make up the majority should “…not expect those who disagree with those value judgments to foot the bill” suggests a grasp of the concepts of “community,” and “democracy” that is, at best, juvenile. I’ve been paying for wars with which I disagreed since the mid-1960s. I’m often in the minority. That’s the way republican government works.

    More importantly, Gary Thaden’s last statement seems to me to be correct. Nothing I’ve read in the comments up through #15 is of any help to Ms. Becker. I don’t know that I’ll be of any help, either, though I AM a (relatively new) resident of Minneapolis and will vouch for, at the very least, her accuracy regarding the abysmal state of street repair.

    Compared to Colorado, Minnesota is already a “high-tax” state, even if it’s in the middle of the pack nationally, but among the positives of Minnesota tax structure is that it relies on multiple income streams. To whatever degree that can continue, I think it should. Too heavy a reliance on a single tax – income, property, sales – or some other single revenue source will create its own set of problems, if not immediately, then down the road a year or three or ten.

    Colorado has very similar fiscal issues, but has constitutional amendments that limit both property and income taxes. As a result, Colorado relies to an inordinate degree on sales tax as the primary funding mechanism for all levels of government. When the economy goes south, so does Colorado’s funding, and the constitutional amendments make it impossible to make up the lost ground. Currently, the state finds itself truly between a rock and a hard place. That seems an accurate description of Ms. Becker’s dilemma, as well.

    I’m already paying about 40 percent more in property taxes here than I was in Colorado, and I’m not eager to see them rise by 12 to 15 percent. There are bound to be programs that, if it were up to me, I’d cut, but there are bound to also be programs for which, if it were up to me, I’d increase the funding. The process is messy.

    Carol said she “can’t imagine going higher,” but going higher may, in the long run, turn out to be easier to bear if the economy recovers and prospers in the interim, especially if the increase is done as a sort of temporary surcharge. School districts bond themselves into debt for capital projects all the time, and are able to do so because there are definite time limits, payback schedules, etc., that voters can see. Likely not practical for municipal operations.

    However, my limited municipal experience suggests that “clawing back” to a previous state once a municipal service has been abandoned altogether, regardless of the reason, is even more difficult than maintaining a level of service in the face of severe challenges. I live on a fixed income, but there’s no free lunch. If the streets aren’t maintained, I’m paying extra for tires and wheel alignment, and shortening the useful service life of my vehicle, which will have to be replaced because I live in a city neighborhood that has no household-level commercial activity.

    For what little it’s worth, I’d agree – there’s no tweak. Go back to setting priorities, and if maintenance of core services requires a tax increase, then a tax increase is what it has to be. I won’t be happy about it, but I’ll pay it if I’m convinced it’s necessary.

  17. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 08/27/2010 - 05:06 pm.

    Thank you Carol for that enlightening response. I’m generally amazed at the certainty of Minneapolis’ critics who don’t live here or know much about it.

  18. Submitted by Hal Davis on 08/27/2010 - 07:14 pm.

    Idle query.

    Can the city sell to a third party its real estate tax liens?

    The city of Hartford, Conn., does that, according to this article. Seems like a fine revenue source.

    Excerpts from a story about a hotel facing bankrupcty:

    http://www.courant.com/business/hc-crowne-plaza-20100826,0,1479683.story

    The city is one of the major listed creditors, with more than $1.2 million in unpaid property taxes from 2007 and 2008. That money actually is owed to a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase, not the city, because the city sold the liens.

    In addition, the hotel owes $486,000 for 2009 taxes not shown in the filing, city Tax Collector Marc Nelson said.

    The company has not paid any property taxes since November 2008. Nelson, the city tax collector, said the city had sold the liens for the second installment of 2007’s taxes and for 2008 taxes.

    The subsidiary of JPMorgan that bought the liens paid $1.2 million for them, and they will be the ones to take the loss if the company does not pay all its debts, Nelson said. That, he said, illustrates the value of selling liens. “We’re not holding the bag in the $1.2 million.”

  19. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/27/2010 - 07:28 pm.

    Whew! Ray you went off so far into the weeds there I’m afraid I’ll never get out there, but I did want to correct you on one point: I love my job, love the people I work for and with.

    But times are tough at work. We have taken a bit more than a 10% pay cut in the past year.

    The company’s contribution to our 401K retirement accounts was also frozen for the past six months, but thankfully that has been restored.

    I won’t say any of that made anyone happy, but knowing the alternative was layoffs for some of our colleagues, I can honestly say that not one grumble was heard out loud.

    We’re adults; we can see that our production floor has been silent. We have seen our order backlog dwindle to nothing. We know there is no magic money tree out there backing our payroll; no bottomless public pot O’ gold to dig into.

    If we don’t produce, we’re out of luck.

    Still, we’re all happy to be still employed; because everyone pitched in, not one person has been laid off, and we’re very optimistic for our futures and the future of our company.

    Hope that clears things up for you!

  20. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/27/2010 - 09:26 pm.

    Swifty makes an interesting point without actually coming out and saying it: We have too many people working in the public sector who have never worked in the private sector.

    When your organization’s life blood is based totally on sales, you have a better understanding of how the real world works. You have painful personal experience of what people and organizations have to do to survive in tough times.

    So certainly you must realize that when government claims to have cut the budget to the bone, people who work in the private sector can’t help but roll their eyes.

  21. Submitted by Rick Ellis on 08/27/2010 - 09:54 pm.

    One thing that strikes me is that for years, state officials have resisted the hard economic decisions, pushing it off on the local level. They cut money going back to the cities, increase the state mandates and add services that have to be paid on a local level. All so that they (and in recent years, that means the Governor), can proudly proclaim they have “held the line on tax increases.” While ignoring the gutless moves they’ve made to shift the burdens.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/28/2010 - 10:01 am.

    //Swifty makes an interesting point without actually coming out and saying it: We have too many people working in the public sector who have never worked in the private sector

    When your organization’s life blood is based totally on sales, you have a better understanding of how the real world works…

    These statements are just so bizarre and typical of anti-government mythology. Again, as discussed elsewhere there this baseless assumption that the private sector is more efficient, as if none of us have ever had to deal with a cable company, bank, or phone company, just for starters. This myth is compounded by yet another myth that the world of sales is more “real” than any other world. Yes, there nothing more “real” than selling a car, I mean how can firefighter, cop, or social worker possibly know anything about the “real” world- what’s life and death compared to a sales invoice.

    Underlying all of these weird assumptions and myths is the notion that greed is the source of all innovation, thrift, and efficiency. In fact most people don’t like waste their time whether their mowing their lawn, grocery shopping, or building a house. I know a guy who’s spent the last week trying to figure out how to streamline his grading process at the U of M because he’s gonna have 70 students without TA this year. But the University isn’t the “real world” is it? Must be some bizarre glitch in the universe that a guy who’s not working for a private company is concerned about efficiency eh?

    Fact is these small government champions either don’t believe in or don’t understand democracy. Winning and election doesn’t you have the right to impose your will on the city, state, country. You’re fellow citizens still have a say, and your politicians have to listen, even to people who didn’t vote for them. When Carol says that some constituency fought for the remaining services, that’s what she’s talking about. It’s not about government workers or politicians imposing their will on hapless taxpayers. The only politicians who seem to think they won the right to impose their “values” and priorities when the win elections are small government Republicans. Everyone else seems to realize that we have to work together and respect the process. Just because you think human rights are a waste of time doesn’t mean you get to abolish it, even if you won an election.

    Mr. Swift is right about one thing however, if people want services they need to pay them. You can’t refuse to vote for any politician who doesn’t promise to cut your taxes for 40 years and expect things end well. You can’t defund government continuously for 40 years and never expect services to be affected. And you can’t trust people who lie in election cycle after election cycle about finding savings, welfare queens, and $100,000 a year servers to run your government and the economy.

    So after 40 years of faith based magic plan small government fantasy we’re kinda screwed.

    Here’s what I say Carol: if people want small government, give it to them, but don’t insulate them from their choices. Cut whatever you need to cut. In a democracy you get the government you deserve.

    I think part of the problem we’ve had over the last 40 years is politicians have focused too much on making service cuts painless for most people. That means the weakest and most defenseless people have suffered the most. We cut health care in order to maintain roads, and street lights. We cut human services and aid to battered women’s shelters in order to keep libraries open. We eliminated welfare programs so we could build a missile defense that doesn’t work. We let our homeless pile up on the streets in order to build stadiums.

    I say it’s about time the majority who all thought small government was a great idea get to live the dream they’ve been making the weak and the poor live for decades now. You can always raise taxes later, and it’ll be easier to do if the public is crying out for restored services. The only reason Pawlenty can get away with claiming that no one’s noticed the reduced services is that the services that have been reduced the most are the ones the vast majority of people don’t use. So we killed a few people in order to keep the state parks open.

    I did notice a big sink hole developing on James or Irving and Lagoon over in Uptown while riding my bike the other day. Someone should do something about that before it caves it and someone gets hurt… or not.

  23. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/28/2010 - 09:59 pm.

    Not to worry, Mr. Swift… even old teachers can do hyperbole from time to time, though I hardly think I was out in the weeds. Sounds like your private organization is, and has been, doing pretty much what my public organization did when I worked for it. Belt-tightening is not something limited to the private sphere, or to those whose livelihoods depend upon sales.

    And thanks to Paul Udstrand for reminding me to mention that I’ve not just worked for the public. I’ve also worked for medium and large corporations, and was the office manager of a small company whose owner was the only other employer. I’ve seen plenty of private industry as well as public service. As Paul has suggested, the notion that only private industry is more efficient, or is more connected to the “real” world, or is basically more morally pure than public service is laughable. I’ve seen plenty of waste and inefficiency in private industry, and just as frequently as in the public sphere. It ain’t pretty, no matter who’s doing it, and if you think product sales are tough, try putting your salary up for a public vote – not just of shareholders or investors, but everyone, whether they’re interested in your product or not.

    I certainly agree that if we want services, we have to be prepared to pay for them, and I second Paul’s statements about consequences. I was thinking the same thing, but ran out of room last time. If we’re not willing to pay for services, then so be it. Cut the services. If we’re not willing to fund programs or positions, then we shouldn’t expect good service, nor should we expect beyond-the-call-of-duty performance from top-notch personnel. Top-notch people, according to an awful lot of writers from the right, go where they’re rewarded the most for their top-notch-ness. It’s all about the money in a society based on greed. Yet there are people in both public and private spheres who routinely do a better job than they need to because they believe there’s value in their work. I loved my job, too, and spent many, many hours over and above what was required or expected because I loved what I was doing, and believed it was important work. I also liked the idea that I was involved in something that – you’ll pardon my hubris – might make the society a little bit better when I left than when I arrived.

    Indeed, we get the government we deserve, and in most cases, that we ask for. The programs and policies that drive Mr. Swift up the wall didn’t magically appear out of thin air. As Paul said, these aren’t things that have been imposed upon a cowering public by some iron-fisted dictator. Some constituency asked for and supported them, and may still support them. Some of us, at least, want a society where the least among us are not ground under the heel of the privileged. That’s not “liberal,” it’s Biblical…

    So Carol, whether you’ve been laid off or not, if the city doesn’t have the money, and raising taxes significantly seems either too painful, or simply unworkable, then cuts have to be made. People who are unemployed aren’t able to pay more in taxes, and may even be unable to pay taxes at all – part of the broad, vicious cycle that characterizes this economic system when things go sour. And if you’re going to cut, then it’s only fair to spread those cuts out so that they affect people across the board, not just the poor, or the unsophisticated, or those whose wages will never reach six figures unless we count the numbers to the right of the decimal. To be fair, cuts should affect all levels and segments of the community or society.

  24. Submitted by Josh McCabe on 08/30/2010 - 10:36 am.

    First, I have a personal message for Carol. I’m very sorry for your employment challenges and I appreciate your service to our community. It’s going to be all right. Your instincts and capabilities will serve you well if you don’t abandon your principles now.

    For perspective, it must be said: the modern difference in our marvelous nation between good times and bad is not so catastrophic as it sometimes seems to those of us who live here. We are not, for example, having to walk many miles to bring marginally potable drinking water back to our families. This is not going to break us, but it will make the difference between a great quality of life and a good one.

    The priorities we falsely debate here have already been set by the community. Your task is to determine whether or not we should continue to attempt to pay for them, and I say yes, without a doubt, even though the state has temporarily (and experimentally) abandoned you. Mr. Swift and his friends have spent many years attempting to divert our ALREADY ESTABLISHED collective priorities for funding away from things like civil rights or any other sort of humane community endeavor because they do not like to be constrained in their predatory capitalist philosophy. Simply put, they do not wish to pay to assist anyone, for any purpose. Why even support a living wage for anyone other than yourself, either? Or make certain that the machine one uses won’t chop someone’s arm off? Or that you don’t have to work 12 hour days 7 days a week? But you see, Swift is trapped and forced to pay for these “useless” things he lists above because he lives here with the rest of us, and the rest of us think in different terms. Too bad, Swift, you and your tax-dodging friends always lose in the end. As long as you live in our community, you will have to live by our rules. One freedom of yours I especially cherish, Mr. Swift, is your option to go elsewhere if you don’t like it. You will not change our minds about caring for others.

    Unable to convince the community to abandon it’s most vulnerable members directly, Swift and his friends have turned to a more subtle approach in recent decades, creating an artificial budget crisis by loudly and repetitively implying that corruption and graft wallow in the revenue stream that supports our collective endeavors… taxes. Simple really. But they hide their own voracious appetites under a mask of pious simplicity, as they’ve had to do ever since the turn of the last century when they were first seriously reigned in. Rampant capitalism means the weak are eaten, and Swift’s unsympathetic point of view will be a great irony when he finds himself more personally vulnerable. He will learn only then, like most teenagers. The worst thing you can do to Swift and his ilk is ignore them and recognize that we hold the power, not them. That’s why Swift is always so strident, shrill and demanding. He seeks control, but does not have it. At the moment, you do.

    While it is hard hard hard to do knowing that it isn’t fair to Minneapolis residents, you must impose the tax and let the chips fall where they may. The game being played is to sharpen the burden on our most liberal communities so they are dismayed and attack each other. We mustn’t. We can and will absorb this blow. When Swift’s friends in government are revealed for the brutal liars they are, we will return to the larger umbrella of state taxation for the common good. The situation will turn. Hold the line.

  25. Submitted by Dave Thompson on 09/03/2010 - 03:45 pm.

    Ah, to be young and certain again. But, back to the issues at hand.
    1. I don’t understand why Minneapolis still has its own Health Department. Could we not merge it with the County’s Human Services and Health Department, thereby saving at least the administrative costs of running a separate organization? The savings here are long-term, not short-term. It takes money to close down an operation of this size.
    2. Why is the Park Police a separate entity? Yeah I know, the Minneapolis Police Dept. is understaffed and won’t respond to “bullies on the playground” calls like the Park Police do. Well, why is that worth paying for? This dual organization drives me nuts, and there are some big bucks to be saved here. By eliminating one entire set of police cars, uniforms, training programs, dispatchers, etc etc., the city saves big bucks. Again, closing down the organization will not be cheap. Park Police staff may not be qualified to work for the city’s police department.
    3. I think it is shameful that Pawlenty vetoed the bill that would have merged the nearly-bankrupt city pension funds into the state fund. I look forward to someday having a governor that serves all the people, instead of one that favors his suburban friends and goes out of his way to punish the core cities (or vice versa).

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