Yesterday, the Council’s budget committee made what I think
was a terrible decision to make cuts in three critically important priority areas
in order to make a very minor reduction in the tax levy. These three areas
represent longtime priorities for me and, more recently, adopted priorities for
the Council: fighting climate change
, ending racial inequities
and improving community engagement
This was accomplished on a narrow 7-6
vote for a
change to the budget proposed by Council Member Linea Palmisano. To save
the median homeowner about $2.50 in 2015, we gutted our commitments to equity,
clean energy and support for neighborhood engagement.
Here are the details. Council Member Palmisano brought
a change to the budget that limited the amount of the levy increase. This
levy reduction on its own is a bad idea
. Why? Because the
City’s budget prospects – given the fact that the Republicans have retaken the Minnesota
House, which threatens future Local Government Aid – are likely to be worse in
future years. By reducing the levy increase this year, we are very likely
increasing it by even more for future years. This is just bad budgeting
in the first place.
But it’s worse than that, because to achieve these cuts, we
did considerable damage to the progressive policy commitments we’ve made over
the past year.
In this post I will take a closer look at the cuts to
fighting climate change. In subsequent entries I will address the issues of
equity and community engagement.
On Clean Energy and Climate:
Two months ago, we made a commitment to form a Clean Energy
Partnership with Xcel and CenterPoint, our electric and gas utilities.
The Council passed the Memorandum of Understanding to form that Partnership unanimously
We made this commitment knowing that the Energy Pathways study recommended,
staff had recommended, and the Mayor had proposed as part of her budget,
$150,000 for a new staff person to manage all of the new work of the
To make these ill-considered budget cuts, the Council
majority cut this investment in the Clean Energy Partnership in half, from
$150,000 to $75,000. But we don’t get half as much work for half as much
money. Rather than being able to hire someone to staff the Partnership,
we won’t be able to do so. This sends a clear and terrible signal to the
utilities and the community that we do not really mean the commitments we made
about making energy a priority.
We made these commitments in response to more than a year of
tremendous community pressure for City action on our energy system.
During that year, many of my colleagues – as candidates, at the time – told the
Minneapolis Energy Options campaign that they were very supportive of the City
taking a leadership role on clean energy. Tens of people spoke in favor
of forming this Partnership at the public hearing on October 6th
people attended our public hearing on the budget to complain
about their property tax burden.
Yesterday’s action was out of line with at least three
policy actions taken by this City Council:
- The Energy Pathways Study, adopted
unanimously on March 7th, recommended that the City “dedicate funding through
one percent of franchise fee revenues.” The expected franchise fee revenues for 2015 are $29 million. 1% of that
amount is $290,000. The mayor’s proposed funding for the
partnership was already about half of the amount recommended by the Pathways
study – which, again, passed the Council unanimously.
- The City’s Goals and Strategic
Directions include this goal: “we sustain resources for future generations by
reducing consumption, minimizing waste and using less energy.” This goal
was also adopted in March.
- The Memoranda of Understanding
between the City and Xcel and CenterPoint both contain the following
commitment: “The Parties each commit to provide staff and resources appropriate
to complete the Work.” These MOUs passed the Council unanimously
on October 17th.
As one of my colleagues put it in committee, there’s a
difference between “talking progressive versus acting progressive.” Talking
progressive is saying things like “encouraging use of clean energy and ensuring
excellent service are not mutually exclusive concepts… I am hopeful the Clean
Energy Partnership will achieve both goals,” when the Clean Energy Partnership
passes the Council. Acting
progressive would be voting to
fully fund the Partnership.
Those of my colleagues who voted to ignore the commitments
we’ve made and gut the Partnership:
Linea Palmisano (who made the motion)
Those of my colleagues who voted with me to preserve the
commitments we’ve made to clean energy:
This is not the end of this story. I will be moving to
replace these funds on December 10th
, taking funding from another
source. The $400,000 in additional new funding for the Convention Center
to market itself is one potential target.
In the meantime, I’m hoping that supporters of clean energy
make their voices heard, as they have over the course of the last year.
Because it’s clear that the Council will not do the right thing on energy
without a strong show of force from energy activists.