Preserving state aid among top priorities
Though it still needs a little tweaking, the City Council has approved the wish list it plans to take to the state when the Legislature reconvenes this week.
The process happens every year, but it takes on added weight now that State Economist Tom Stinson has issued a fiscal forecast detailing a mammoth expected $4.5 billion budget deficit for the 2003-2005 biennium.
The state constitution requires a balanced budget every two years. However, the effects of a weak stock market, tepid economic recovery and greater-than-expected human services spending has created a huge gap between expected revenues and expected spending for the next biennium, according to Andrea Hart-Kajer, the city's director of intergovernmental relations and legislative lobbyist.
With that in mind, the council approved its legislative agenda 11-0 in December. It includes six core issues, along with a series of "supported" and "endorsed" items that rank lower on the priority scale.
Among the priorities councilmembers hope to bring to the state are:
Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward), said that protecting local government aids tops the list of top priorities. And while the budget crisis looks grave, he said, he thinks the city has a convincing story for an incoming governor and Republican House majority, both of whom stress government accountability.
Benson said that the city's Focus Minneapolis initiative is a poster child for government accountability.
The initiative would attempt to halt what Mayor R.T. Rybak has characterized as the practice of deal-making for city projects, replacing it with development cycles that force developers to compete for city funds.
Further, Benson said, the city can make a powerful argument that its aid money should not be cut. LGA funds go directly to the general fund, which is where the police and fire departments get virtually all of their money, and where street and bridge repairs get their cash.
"It would seem that the more we can make clear that LGA reductions means reductions in police, fire and road construction and those types of things, the better off we'll be," Benson told members of the council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee, which he chairs.
Barnhart cautioned that the deficit means the status quo almost certainly will change.
"It would be my impression that if the state deficit had come in at the $2 [billion] to $3 billion range, the LGA program -- monitored correctly -- might have come out with minimal scathing."
But, he said, "at $4.5 billion, things will change."