Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2015 Budget Cuts - Clean Energy

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 Partnership.

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 6thZero 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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
Kevin Reich
Jacob Frey
Barb Johnson
Blong Yang
Abdi Warsame
Lisa Goodman

Those of my colleagues who voted with me to preserve the commitments we’ve made to clean energy:
Elizabeth Glidden
Alondra Cano
Lisa Bender
John Quincy
Andrew Johnson

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.


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