Unallotting The Ponzi Scheme

We’ve visited this topic before; for the past forty years or so, when outstate Minnesota was lagging and the Twin Cities were booming, Minnesota’s government instituted “Local Government Aid”, which essentially subsidized the growth of the rest of the state.  This coincided with a period where Minnesota Republicans, like Republicans nationwide, were very different from the post-1980 Republicans that most of us came to know, and with a period of time when Minnesota – blessed with immense natural resources and brain power, would very likely have boomed anyway.  This period was dubbed “The Minnesota Miracle” by Time Magazine, and it spawned the most noxious myth in the history of Minnesota politics; that Minnesota’s prosperity was a function of Republicans “cooperating” (read: acquiescing without question) with the DFL, a myth that still drives much partisan rhetoric in Minnesota.

And it still drives it, even though the dynamics have changed almost beyond recognition in the past forty years.  A generation of DFL social canoodling have left the Twin Cities short on revenue (“despite” some of the most confiscatory commercial property taxes in the country) and very, very long on spending; for a generation, the DFL has used the urban core as a warehouse for the poor, with all the spending that it causes and, (not very) arguably, attracts.  “LGA” has become a subsidy of the Twin Cities metro by the parts of the state that actually pay their way.

Governor Pawlenty has now followed through on the promise of his veto of the DFL’s attempt to crash a porkfest tax and spend plan through the legislature.  He’s cutting 2.7 billion dollars from the state budget.

Expect the usual yelping from the usual suspects. 

Bob Collins at MPR’s News Cut notes an opening salvo:

On MPR’s Midday this afternoon, Rep. Loren Solberg predicted massive property tax increases because of Gov. Pawlenty’s “unallotment.”

Only if the cities and their elected governments can convince the people that every blessed nickel that they spend is essential.  Oh, no doubt they’ll ram the tax increases through; Saint Paul’s city council still has two years before they face re-election, so they no doubt feel pretty safe, although Mayor Coleman is up for re-election this year. 

But here’s the interesting part:  Bob Colins asks:

How familiar are you with how your city spends tax money? What would you be willing to do without if you were given a choice?

Oh, where to start?

With a hearty nod to regular commenter “Nate”, who left a long list of ideas on a previous posting on the subject (thanks Nate!), I’ll start a list up, speaking in this case for my city, Saint Paul:

  • Privatize snow plowing.
  • Lose the refrigerated outdoor hockey rinks.  This is a cold city.  We don’t need to refrigerate ice.
  • Dump all the STAR program arts grants.  A real artist does it for the love of the art.
  • Cut all vacant building enforcement and a good chunk of non-essential Code activity
  • Cut all funding for neighborhood councils
  • Cut all funding for economic development – HRA and the Port Authority; if they were doing a decent job, we wouldn’t have this problem anyway
  • Axe most of licensing and inspection
  • Dump most of the Mayor and Council staff (the Mayor has 24 aides, most of them with assistants)
  • Sell off all of the City-owned golf courses (all three of ’em!);
  • Cut all parks-and-recreation programs and park improvements;
    meter maids;
  • Cut or privatize the convention bureau; the local hospitality and events business can run their own operation.
  • Slash all money going to support the Central Corridor. 
  • Dump the Youth Job Corps; if there’s a need for working youth, employers can fund it; if there’s not, well, looking for work in tough times is one of life’s essential skills.
  • Dump every committee, board and commission and all their staff from the Advisory Committee on Aging through the Fair Carousel Board to the Truth in Housing Board of Evaluators.
  • Start charging at least a nominal fee to attend Como Zoo; it doesn’t have to be much, but during the fiscal crisis, every little bit helps.
  • Remove the costly. wasteful and excessive security at city and county offices. This would have the salutary effect of making city/county workers a lot more circumspect in their demands on the citizenry. That could only be a good thing.

I stress, as did Nate in the original comment, that none of these reflects on the value of any of these programs; merely the need for the city to fund them at all costs at a time when the city’s tax base is heading south faster than Tommy Lee Jones’ career bell curve and people are feeling justifiably insecure about their place in the economy.  Perhaps when the crisis passes, the people of Saint Paul will decide they really do want to fund all of these programs.  And perhaps they will not. 

But “when the crisis passes” is the operative phrase.

What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Unallotting The Ponzi Scheme

  1. Could not Coleman’s Diversity Comissioner (or whatever it’s called) move into the office of the state’s? They duplicate roles, why not share floor space?

  2. I almost forgot. Abolish the Met Council. That would save a hundred mil at least.

  3. Kermit. Without St Paul’s victim….I mean diversity director, how will we find out things like Dago sandwiches are racist? I mean, it’s not obvious until a taxpayer supported bureucrat tells us these things.

  4. That’s a great list, Mitch. In St. Cloud, Mayor Dave Kleis put in place a great system when he started noticing the economy weakening. Expenditures were categorized into 3 categories: Do, Don’t Do & Do Differently.

    Worded differently, Needs, Wants & Needs that need reforming would be the proper fit.

    Since becoming mayor, Dave Kleis hasn’t raised property taxes except when the citizens of St. Cloud VOTED to raise property taxes for building a new public library. As Dave says, that’s the central principle of TABOR.

    Now we’re going through difficult times & Dave’s got a prioritized list of things that are identified in order of need.

  5. The big fear of these big spenders is that they will cut something that THEY thought was important, and the public will never notice. That decreases their power, their feeling of being compassionate (though with other people’s money), and their chances of being able to brag about all the “good things” they did in the next election. In short, it’s just too painful to live with 4% less than you did last year!

  6. Kermit Says: “I almost forgot. Abolish the Met Council.”

    Excellent point Kermit, the abolishment should be at the very top of any list!

  7. “In short, it’s just too painful to live with 4% less than you did last year!” – J.

    Many Minnesotans didn’t get an increase in pay this year, this happened at some of the most prominent corporations in the state; when considering inflation, that is about equivalent to a 4% pay cut.

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