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Mayor Coleman details dire results from massive city budget cuts

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman was at the Capitol Monday with other mayors pleading the case that cities can’t take the brunt of the state revenue shortfall. If the state cuts local government aid as much as some fear is necessary to balance the budget, cities like St. Paul might as well shut down, he said.

Coleman made the case again Friday at a lunch with (mostly-liberal) opinion-makers in West St. Paul.

He said 50 percent of St. Paul’s annual budget goes for public safety — police and fire. And 80 percent of that is personnel costs. So, across-the-board cuts would mean fewer cops and firefighters, he said. No one wants that.

But if you take public safety off the table and make the cuts from the remaining 50 percent of the city budget, the results would be devastating, he said.

“We wouldn’t be talking about closing one rec center; we’d be talking about closing them all. We wouldn’t be closing one library; we’d have to close them all. It’s that drastic,” he said. Nobody wants that, either.

Maybe there is a need to raise some taxes so government can pay for the things that we want it to do, he said.

Coleman said St. Paul relies heavily on the state aid, in part because there were no city property tax increases for 12 years under his two predecessors. As a result, the city’s property tax revenue each year isn’t enough to even pay the cost of the police department for an entire year.

But is he resigned to gloom? No.
He said he’s confident that if all the affected parties — meaning the governor and the Legislature, as well as local government officials — can change the partisan ways they’ve been conducting themselves in recent years, solutions to the problems can be found.

“I have hope and faith that we can get it done,” he said. “People are desperate for it.”

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/12/2008 - 05:12 pm.

    A cumulitive 35% increase in taxes in just three years, and more on the way….Wow, the (mostly liberal) “Happy to Pay” bloc that put Coleman in office must be nearing climactic happiness these days.

    Congratulations, folks. Wish you all the joy of your victory!

  2. Submitted by Mike Kluznik on 12/12/2008 - 10:18 pm.

    I was at the luncheon with Mayor Coleman. As someone who has worked for a long time on the Robert Street Corridor mass transit project, I was disappointed to hear that MPR is trying to stymie the Central Corridor light rail project. Next to James J. Hill’s decision to make St. Paul a major railroad hub in the 19th century, the Central Corridor is the most important transportation project in the history of the city. Apparently Bill Kling, of MPR, doesn’t think so. He claims that LRT in downtown will adversely affect MPR which has its offices on the proposed route. Kling claims that he and other MPR officials didn’t know LRT would pass by MPR’s new studios. Huh? They’re the largest news organization in the state, they were informed of the LRT route back when they did all of the remodeling work on their new offices, and now they claim ignorance? Kling and others are also getting the congregations of two downtown churches all riled up over the matter. Shame on MPR.
    How ironic that MPR, which is frequently accused of being part of the so-called liberal media cabal, would join forces with the right wing and oppose LRT for downtown St. Paul.
    Minnesota must act now. We don’t need to “study” the issue any longer. It’s been in the works for 20 years. St. Paul has a chance to become a major railroad hub again in the upper midwest. If we can also build a high-speed rail line to Chicago, Duluth and maybe Rochester, we will have the infrastructure to maintain a high standard of living for many decades to come. If we delay the project, we fall to end of the line with respect to federal grants. How disappointing that MPR is trying to be the proverbial cow/moose/buffalo that lays across the tracks and blocks progress and jobs in a difficult economy.
    This is why I dropped my MPR membership last year.

  3. Submitted by Mike Kluznik on 12/12/2008 - 10:32 pm.

    Re: Tom Swift’s tax increase remarks, I’m not sure where he got his statistics–I doubt that Coleman is suggesting we raise taxes by that much. Personally, I find paying taxes to be about as exciting as shopping for new socks and underwear. Yet, they’re necessary.
    For the past three decades, I’ve heard the mantra from the right that taxes rob us of our wealth and kill jobs. Yet, the greatest loss of wealth in my lifetime has nothing to do with tax policy. The heavy losses we’ve all experienced in terms of property values, stock & bond portfolios and loss of jobs has nothing to do with taxes. Our collective losses are due to D-E-R-E-G-U-L-A-T-I-O-N. Let me say that again…slowly: D-E-R-E-G-U-L-A-T-I-O-N.
    Reagan was wrong, so was Greenspan, so was Bush 1, and it goes without saying that Bush 2 was wrong (he was wrong on just about everything). Pawlenty is wrong, and so is most of the right wing. In 1984, Mondale said we’d have to raise taxes, but paying taxes is like shopping for new socks and underwear. It’s a chore, a necessary chore.
    P.S. The worth of my Lehmann Brothers bonds went from $12K to less than $1,000 in a matter of days. I would just as soon have paid taxes with that money if I could be reasonably guaranteed that it would be put to good use.

  4. Submitted by Charley Underwood on 12/14/2008 - 12:57 am.

    Just a reminder: The September 1 to 4 siege of St Paul during the Republican National Convention came to $50 million in “security” costs. $1.9 million went to chemical weapons like pepper spray, which were used quite liberally on the citizens. There were also millions paid to install tons of “security” cameras for the event, although the 6,000 hours of tapes are now being withheld (with some speculation that the tapes show no major crimes by protesters but reveal entirely too many assaults by the black-clad “security” officers).

    For our loss of freedoms during that week, St Paul was supposed to reap great financial profit and worldwide positive notice for our fair state and city. What happened to all that money? For that matter, what happened to all that Minnesota nice that people around the world were supposed to see?

  5. Submitted by Reggie McGurt on 12/15/2008 - 10:37 am.

    When people on the far right (Thomas Swift) AND far left (Charley Underwood) are making up stuff about you, you must be doing something right.

    Thomas, those tax numbers don’t jibe with anything on St. Paul’s web site.

    Charley, the security costs were paid for by the feds, not St. Paul.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/15/2008 - 11:11 am.

    Mike, please re-read my comment. 35% is not the suggested hike, it is the cumulative total increase since Coleman took office.

    I don’t think they have announced just how much higher they will go yet, but I’ll take an educated guess that between 8 and 10% is on the way. (Got a new Human rights department to pay for, and it’s the refrigerated ice rink season you know.)

    Charlie, unless I’m mistaken (and I’m not) the RNC paid for all of that wonderful riot control equipment and security upgrades; didn’t cost the city a dime.

    From all reports, the new equipment and technology was a resounding success, but unfortunately for the city’s dining and entertainment suppliers, most of the commercial business that was generated from the convention was conducted outside of Saint Paul.

    After a long day of dodging human waste, chlorine, trash cans, sand bags and road signs you can appreciate that the delegates were looking forward to a bit of relaxation; so despite the fact that councilmember Thune did his best to torpedo that once in a lifetime opportunity, it’s hard to blame Mayor Coleman.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/15/2008 - 11:24 am.

    Reggie, Saint Paul increased taxes 9% in 2006, 10% in 2007 and 14.6% in 2008.

    9+10=19+14.6= 33.6%

    So, you’re right…I was way over the top.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/15/2008 - 01:30 pm.

    One last remark.

    To his credit, Chris Coleman plainly and honestly told the voters of St. Paul that he would raise taxes and spend, spend, spend.

    In electing Coleman, the voters of St. Paul clearly expressed a desire for high taxes, and now they have them.

    So there is no reason the mayor has to schlep up to the capital to beg for money, his constituents are far from tapped out.

    That, my friends is the beauty of local government control!

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/15/2008 - 01:43 pm.

    Like every other city and county in Minnesota, St Paul and Ramsey County have had to raise property taxes and, in the city’s case, create or raise fees in order to maintain at least a minimal level of public services. And why have they had to do this? Ask Tim Pawlenty and the other Republican signers of Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”

    Local governments that do not receive their December LGA payments from the state are in REAL trouble unless they have enough money in reserve to cover the first five months of operations.

    It’s way past time for Pawlenty et al. to stop pretending that their refusal to tax the top 5% of Minnesota’s earners at the same rate as the middle class does no harm. Their blind adherence to a failed ideology has, is, and will do great harm.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/15/2008 - 02:17 pm.

    “Local governments that do not receive their December LGA payments from the state are in REAL trouble unless they have enough money in reserve to cover the first five months of operations.”

    Really, Bernice?

    Someone had better tell these cities, they didn’t get the memo:

    Looks like there are plenty of local governments that manage to perennially “have enough money in reserve” to cover their budgets. There are lots more than I have looked up, but I think you get the point.

    Then, there are cities like St. Paul who seem never to be able to manage their budgets.

    Good thing the good citizens have decided to just go ahead and raise taxes each and every year…everyone is happy, right?

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