Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


How to create a big-city budget address — in seven easy steps

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, a tale of two separate — and really similar — budget speeches.

Mayor Coleman’s 2015 Budget Address

Two days. Two cities. Two mayors. Two budgets.

And two separate, but remarkably similar, budget speeches.

On Wednesday, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman used the historic Schmidt Brewery and Lofts to lay out his spending priorities for 2015. The next day, in her city’s equally historic city council chambers, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges did the same.

Article continues after advertisement

Yet while the two mayors have differences in approach, politics and style, the two speeches shared much. How much? Let us count the ways. 

1. I’m simply doing what the voters want.

Hodges: “Well, Minneapolis, now we get to put our money where our votes were. When we voted last fall we asked for something bigger than each of us. When we voted last fall, we asked for a city that was well run. When we voted, we asked for action on a vision of growth — to bring more people, businesses, housing and jobs here. When we voted, we overwhelmingly demanded action on eliminating the gaps we have between white people and people of color, and to make sure everyone could participate in the benefits of that growth. When we voted, we asked to reach for something beyond what we had ever before imagined for ourselves.”

Coleman:  “As I traveled around the city meeting with residents about the budget this summer, I heard loud and clear that these things are important to all of us, and I feel strongly that this budget delivers what the residents of St. Paul are looking for from their city.”

2. Budgets Are More Than Numbers 

Hodges: “Budgets are not merely a way of indicating our priorities, though they are that. Rather, budgets are a fine-grained, detailed way to show the community that we meant what we said. Budgets are where our money meets our values … I never have seen the budget as mere spreadsheets and numbers to manipulate. I have never seen the budget as an intellectual exercise. I have always known that a budget is policy, and that at the city, it is the biggest, most important piece of policy we do every year.”

Coleman: “I offer my proposed 2015 budget to you as a reflection of our community — its neighborhoods, its rich culture and its values. It is neither art nor science. But certainly it is more than simply numbers on a page.”

3. Equity Is Important

Hodges: “We are entering a period of growth in this country and in this city. We have entered it sooner than most. But that increase in prosperity is happening for white people, primarily. People of color are not sharing in the new circumstances. For Minneapolis to maximize our growth potential, both short-term and long-term, we must make certain everyone can benefit from and contribute to our growth.”

Article continues after advertisement

Coleman: “We have a great city that is getting better every day. But too many of our residents have neither the resources nor the education to enable their success. Systemic barriers impose even greater hurdles for them. In the last few years, we have tackled this issue head on, but much work remains. In housing, in employment, in city contracting, in education or youth summer employment, we will continue to open doors for all in this city.” 

Mayor Hodges’ 2015 Budget Address

4. About Last Winter … 

Hodges: “Caring for our streets is a four-season job. In addition to the great work that our Public Works staff do to plow the snow off our streets, my budget also proposes more resources for enforcing sidewalk clearing in winter, and for the first time adds resources for clearing corners and bikeways of snow to the department’s base.” 

Coleman: “Much of what we saw this past winter can be attributed to brutal conditions: extreme cold, heavy snows, often preceded by rain and ice, and a wet spring that made it hard to get out and patch the potholes as fast as we would have wanted.” 

5. That Darned Tim Pawlenty! 

Hodges: “Most notably, that recession and those pension obligations came on top of years of disinvestment in cities — particularly Minneapolis and Saint Paul — by a Republican governor and Legislature who willfully ignored the realities of city finances. We all owe thanks to Governor Mark Dayton and the DFL House and Senate majorities who understood the harm that systematic disinvestment in the public good was doing to our quality of life, and chose to reinvest instead.” 

Coleman: “Residents expect a great deal from city government, but they are growing increasingly concerned about the burden of property taxes. Recent analysis of data from the State Auditor’s Office reveals that steep decreases in Local Government Aid since 2003 resulted in total city revenues dropping 15.6 percent statewide, even when local tax increases are factored in. This shift falls heavily on our residents.”

6. Raising The Property Tax Levy Is The Responsible Thing To Do 

Article continues after advertisement

Hodges: “We must catch up with inflation if we wish to keep our basic services — already cut to the bone — functioning. To do that requires increasing the amount of money that we raise in property taxes in order to meet this year’s inflation factor – and do some catching up to years past, to make the investments that the voters asked us to make.”

Coleman: “And while I do not take raising the levy lightly, increasing it means we will not have to cut police officers or firefighters or reduce hours at libraries and rec centers.” 

7. Are We Great, Or What? 

Hodges: “Just yesterday, we learned that the city has exceeded the $1 billion value of permitted work in the City of Minneapolis. In 2013, we did not reach this milestone until October. This will be the third year in a row that the City has marked more than $1 billion in construction. Minneapolis, we are in a building boom.”

Coleman: In the first half of this year alone, we have celebrated new grocery stores and taprooms, community centers and parks. We rebuilt fields and refurbished breweries. We’ve welcomed PR firms and expanded salsa makers. We’ve opened theaters and greeted train riders at a new old home in the Union Depot.”