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DFLers Mayor Rybak, Rep. Kahn at odds over bill to override Minneapolis funding freeze

Rybak and the City Council president argue that they made the move to hold down property tax increases.

DFLers Mayor Rybak, Rep. Kahn at odds over bill to override Minneapolis funding-freeze
MinnPost photo of Rybak by Terry Gydesen
Rep. Kahn, Mayor Rybak

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak fought today with some of his DFL colleagues over proposed legislation that would override a $10 million funding freeze for the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson, appearing before the House Government Operations and Elections Committee, argued that they made the move to limit property tax increases in Minneapolis’ 2011 budget.

Community groups and some DFL lawmakers disagree, saying any property tax savings would be minimal while having a devastating effect on the city’s neighborhood programs.

“It doesn’t save property tax payers much of anything,” said Sen. Kenneth Kelash, who is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, said that NRP funding makes up less than 1 percent of the city’s budget. The program uses city property taxes to improve community development.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who’s carrying the House companion, said Minneapolis’ plan — which would replace NRP — helps richer neighborhoods dramatically more than poorer areas.

Rybak sent out a letter Wednesday urging supporters to testify against the legislation, which he said would raise property taxes by $10 million, or 7.5 percent.

It was an interesting scene, given that DFL lawmakers have raged against the Republican majority this session for its “all cuts” state budget strategy, an approach they say would raise property taxes astronomically.

So, it was an unusual setting when Rybak and Johnson — whose rhetoric sounded almost as if it had been written by the GOP — “tough choices” mingled with talk of “difficult decisions,” hearkening to Republican arguments on the House floor.

“We feel a great burden in the need to take action to provide property tax relief to our citizens, and we have to make difficult choices,” Johnson said. “I’m sure if the city’s financial situation was different, different choices would have been made.”

Council President Barbara Johnson
Council President Barbara Johnson

Property taxes make up more than a quarter of Minneapolis’ $1.37 billion budget, according to City Council documents.

“I didn’t sound like a Democrat or a Republican,” Rybak said afterward. “I sounded like a mayor elected to make tough choices … I need to make tough choices and disappoint people, even those in this room who do great work for the city.”

Rybak called the bill “one of the most dramatic overreaches” of state government into local control, adding it would set a “dangerous precedent.”

Kahn, however, called the NRP freeze a “kamikaze attack” by Minneapolis on the 20-year-old program, and an overflowing roomful of community members behind her agreed.

Although Kahn’s bill eventually passed today, it was a tense vote. A handful of lawmakers, such as DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler, abstained early but then voted no once it was clear the measure would pass.

Republicans voted for the bill in a near bloc, which troubled Rybak.

“I find it especially disappointing that the Republicans voted as a bloc to override local control and force higher property taxes on the city of Minneapolis,” he said.

Neither Rybak nor Kahn seemed to mind being at odds with members of their own party, even when they represent parts of the same city.

“I didn’t have any problem,” Kahn commented, saying, “He’s totally wrong” on the issue.