Keep taxes low
As a young married couple, my wife and I have watched our household budget carefully to cover grad school loans, our mortgage, and baby gear for the daughter we’re expecting in November. In last year’s election, Mayor Rybak and Councilmember Betsy Hodges promised to show similar fiscal discipline in avoiding property tax increases, so I voted for them. I was surprised, then, by their Sept. 13 votes on the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) to allow yet another property tax increase — this time, an increase of up to 7.5 percent for 2011.
I have two key concerns. First, they’re treating voters as if we can’t do math. In his Aug. 16 budget proposal, Mayor Rybak claimed that his tax increase is due solely to $17.7 million in increased pension obligations. If that were true, the mayor could avoid the tax increase through $17.7 million in offsetting budget cuts — a mere 1.3 percent of the budget. He should cut that 1.3 percent or acknowledge that he won’t — not blame pensions.
Second, Mayor Rybak and Councilwoman Hodges are shirking tough decisions by pursuing a tax increase rather than adopting the proposals of BET member Carol Becker. Her advice — consolidate government functions and set spending priorities — would have resulted in a property tax increase of 0 percent. Becker is a DFL-endorsed municipal finance expert, not an anti-government radical. We’re in trouble when Rybak and Hodges (chair of the City Council’s budget committee) vote down the budget-balancing ideas of a DFLer whose institutional role is to rein in city spending.
Failing to shoot straight with voters and shirking hard decisions do not constitute the fiscal discipline that Rybak and Hodges promised. In a Nov. 2, 2009 letter to the Southwest Journal, Councilwoman Hodges exhorted city residents to hold their elected officials accountable for their tax votes. I’ll take that advice if she ever happens to knock on my door seeking my vote. I’ll also show off my daughter— and the baby gear I hope fits in the budget.