Save some $, go for the tap

Water is integral to life in Minneapolis. We’re home to the biggest waterfall on the Mississippi River – the waterway that gave life to the mills that put our city on the map. Minneapolis is at the northernmost point of shipping on the Mississippi. Who reading this hasn’t enjoyed our riverfront or spent time by our City Lakes?

Getting less fanfare is the water that comes out of our taps. We have some of the finest drinking water in the world. Our tap water has won taste tests against bottled water. We use state-of-the-art techniques to make sure the water that reaches homes and businesses is safe and great tasting. Minneapolis tap water is also a bargain, with a gallon costing just a fraction of a penny. Yet too many people choose bottled water over tap.

We’re going to try and change this. We’re getting the word out about why tap water is a better choice. We want people to know that drinking our tap water is better than bottled. It’s cheaper, and far more eco-friendly.

Think about it: Every bottle of water you see at the store needed to be shipped there from a factory, burning fossil fuel in the process. Resources also go toward manufacturing the containers which, after the water is gulped down, often end up in trash bins. This is wasted energy, and the whole process creates greenhouse gases and fills garbage landfills. 

As for the water inside those bottles, some of it comes from the South Pacific, adding even more environmental costs to shipping. Many brands bottle tap water! People who think bottled water is of a higher quality than tap may be surprised to learn that there’s often not much of a difference. 

But even when tap and bottled water have similarities, there’s a huge difference in cost. The other day, I saw a vending machine selling 20 oz. bottles of water for $1.50 apiece. People are paying close to $10 a gallon for water! They’d scream if they saw unleaded gas selling for that much, yet they think nothing about paying that much for something as basic as water. Compare the bottled water price to the cost of tap water, where that same buck-and-a-half can get you 385 gallons or more.

Working with Children’s Hospital to create jobs

I was so excited Wednesday to join Alan Goldbloom, President of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the hospital’s largest expansion ever, with the opening of a new Children’s Specialty Center on Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis. 

As we work to create jobs and improve our streets, we could not ask for a better partner than Children’s Hospital. This historic expansion, marked with the completion of this Specialty Center, is not only helping us put more people to work, but also to re-make Chicago Avenue into an even stronger spine for our largest job sector – the health and life sciences industry.

Using our innovative Workforce Agreement model, we worked with Children’s Hospital to amplify job creation for Minneapolis residents living in the neighborhoods near the hospital. As a result, 32 near-by residents and 59 residents from other Minneapolis neighborhoods were hired to help build the new Specialty Center. The Center also employed 22 resident apprentices and has hired 12 student interns through the City’s STEP-UP youth summer job program. This is in addition to the more than 2,300 people already employed at Children’s Hospital Minneapolis campus.

Besides creating jobs, the hospital expansion also supports our goal of remaking Chicago Avenue to be more pedestrian-friendly with wider sidewalks and boulevards, improved public gathering spaces, and more public art. We worked with Children’s on a new facility that uses street-friendly architecture and landscaping to enhance Chicago Avenue. Features that will be part of the site include solar light sculptures, a healing garden, specially designed blade art lighting along a new plaza and sidewalks, public art displays, and a customized bus shelter.

We are so proud that Children’s calls Minneapolis home and so excited about our partnership with them to bring new jobs to Minneapolis residents and bring new life to Chicago Avenue.

Minneapolis youth learn about homegrown food

This coming Monday, June 29, Mayor Rybak will visit a city-funded summer program that uses a community garden to teach youth about local food production and sustainability. The program is a collaboration between the City of Minneapolis’ youth employment programs and a new initiative called Homegrown Minneapolis that seeks to expand the growth, sales and consumption of local foods.  

Monday, June 29, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

Emerge Youth Community Garden, 1307 Glenwood Ave. (at Girard Ave. N)

Minneapolis one of the world’s top biking cities

Travel and Leisure magazine has named Minneapolis one of the world’s top biking cities. The magazine chose ten cities worldwide for its list, with just three in the United States. Minneapolis was listed among the elite group of bike-friendly cities in the world because it has built an infrastructure that promotes bicycling for both transportation and recreation.

Travel and Leisure refers to Minneapolis as “a case study in policy promoting bicycling as a viable means to get around.” The magazine notes designated street lanes, bike lockers, recreational trails, and winter plowing of bike trails as reasons it placed Minneapolis on its list. Minneapolis has 83 miles of off-street bicycle paths and 40 miles of streets with dedicated bicycle lanes. Minneapolis has also been awarded the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community Award.

The U.S. Census bureau ranks Minneapolis as the number two bicycling city in the country, just behind Portland, in its comparison of how many people bike to work in the nation’s 50 biggest cities. Bicycle commuters help keep down traffic congestion in Minneapolis. Bicycling is a great workout and an environmentally friendly alternative to driving, reducing our dependence on oil and our creation of greenhouse gases. To learn more about bicycling in Minneapolis, visit the City’s bicycling Web page.

In defense of artistic drinking fountains

On several occasions, Governor Pawlenty has made false statements that were critical of Minneapolis and Mayor Rybak’s fiscal discipline. At a time when the State budget is again in chaos, Governor Pawlenty should not be giving financial advice, especially when that advice is based on misinformation. Minneapolis’ fiscal prudence stands up against the State’s any day.

In particular, Gov. Pawlenty has commented on Minneapolis’ plan to build public drinking fountains that are designed by artists. I’d like to assert a little bit of truth about these public art drinking fountains.

First of all, the drinking fountains in question are funded with dedicated revenue streams that are completely separate from the City’s General Fund and have nothing to do with the amount of local government aid (LGA) the City gets from the State. Here’s how the ten fountains are funded:

  • Each year, Minneapolis dedicates 1% of its capital bonding budget (around $250,000) to public art. The capitol budget is used for public infrastructure (buildings, streets, etc.) and has nothing to do with LGA, which goes into the City’s General Fund to pay for things like police officers and fire fighters. Each year, the Minneapolis Arts Commission recommends to City leadership how they think those funds should be spent. 2008 was Minneapolis’ 150th birthday and Mayor Rybak suggested that the Commission focus the public art dollars onto one, unified project celebrating our “city of waters” instead of dividing the money into various disconnected projects. The Commission agreed and approved the Mayor’s idea of functional, practical, public art drinking fountains.
  • In order for the drinking fountains to be functional, they must be connected to the City’s water supply. Therefore, $250,000 (50% of the total cost) for the fountains also comes from a dedicated Water Fund. The source of this Fund is a water fee that is paid for by property owners (residential and business) and can only be used for things related to our water supply. The size and purpose of the City’s Water Fund has nothing to do with LGA or the City’s General fund.

Even if the City cut all funding for these drinking fountains and cut all funding for all public art, the LGA cuts the Governor has proposed would have the exact same impact on the city. None of the funds for these fountains can be used for higher priorities like police officers, snow plowing, or emergency response. The State also has a capital bonding budget that is separate from other budgets, so presumably Gov. Pawlenty understands the difference between these funds. Why Gov. Pawlenty continues to point to this as an example of something Minneapolis could cut to compensate for lost LGA is a mystery to me.

Secondly, it is important to remember that funding for public art is completely and totally appropriate and Minneapolis is hardly the only level of government involved in this effort. The arts are a significant contributor to our region’s economy and art is funded by city, county, metro, state, and federal levels of government. The $250,000 in funds the City of Minneapolis spends each year on public art is a tiny sum, given the important role the arts play in our community.

By comparison, the State of MN spends about $10.2 Million every year on art through the State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils, and has done this for decades. I’m pretty sure that I or anyone could go through that $10 million and find some project I didn’t like or that I thought Gov. Pawlenty shouldn’t be funding. The fact of the matter is, public funding for the arts not only leverages significant private dollars, but also contributes to our economy and quality of life. The overwhelming decision by Minnesota voters in 2008 to constitutionally dedicate state funding for the arts is a clear testament to the solid public support for publicly funded art.

Attacks from Gov. Pawlenty and others on these Minneapolis public art drinking fountains are not only hypocritical, but have nothing to do with the issues at hand. These attacks are a diversion from the fact that Minnesota’s budget has not had the same long term fiscal stewardship as Minneapolis has had. For too long, Governor Pawlenty has used short term budget fixes and avoided making fiscally responsible choices. This year’s State fiscal crisis, like the one that happened in 2003, and one we can probably expect a few years from now, could have been partly avoided if the Governor adopted some of the long term fiscal management that has helped us restore fiscal stability to the City of Minneapolis. Instead of attacking Mayor Rybak and Minneapolis, perhaps Gov. Pawlenty could learn something about how balanced budgets are really managed.

Unemployment remains lower in Minneapolis

For another month in a row, the April unemployment rate in Minneapolis continues to be lower than the metro region, lower than the state, and lowerthan the federal unemployment rates. April unemployment in Minneapolis was 6.9%, metro area unemployment was 7.5%, state unemployment was 8.2%, and the national unemployment was 8.6%. This continues a trend The Mayor Blog has been following since February and March.

This is a tremendous accomplishment given that up until a few years ago Minneapolis historically has had a higher unemployment than our region, state and nation. Minneapolis is one of the only large cities in America today that has achieved this reversal, due in large part to city job placement strategies, which have trained and placed 10,000 dislocated and low income workers into good jobs since 2002. It’s also a good  sign that the new Minneapolis has the potential to lead Minnesota out of this recession.

Balanced Budgets and Job Creation

Today Governor Pawlenty made his choices about how to cut the state budget. I deeply disagree with the governor because his choices will hurt many people. The governor has offered no plan for putting people to work, only for cutting jobs during a tough economy, and has offered no strategy for fixing a broken state budget that continues to lurch from deficit to deficit.

Earlier this year, we revised our 2009 city budget based on the cuts we anticipated the Governor would make. Because we did that, the City of Minneapolis will not need to make any more cuts to our budget in 2009. This is exactly how we have faced budget challenges before. Over the past several years while the state has been lurching from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, Minneapolis has eliminated nearly $90 million in debt, controlled our spending much better than the state, and made city services more efficient. As a result, we have balanced our budget every year and for years to come.

I deeply disagree with Governor Pawlenty’s choices, but as Mayor I have a job to do and that job is to preserve and create jobs and keep my city safe. People are looking for solutions and we are going to find solutions. It won’t be easy, but we have made tough decisions before and we will do it again:

  • These cuts mean the loss of thousands of jobs in healthcare, our largest job sector, so my job will be to work with our employers and training facilities to grow and preserve jobs. The city budget we adopted left every job program in tact and we are delivering even more jobs for youth this summer.
  • These cuts mean fewer funds for police officers, so my job will be to keep our city safe and maintain the gains we’ve made in reducing crime for more than two years in a row. Public safety will remain our top budget priority.
  • These cuts mean the state budget will still be in deep structural deficit for years to come, so my job will be to continue to keep Minneapolis fiscally sound with less debt and a healthy budget reserve. We will not follow the state’s fiscal example of short-term fixes that create long-term problems. We will continue long-term planning that pays down debt and controls spending.

Because of the economic growth strategy we have in place, the City of Minneapolis is positioned to create jobs, grow locally-based industries and compete in a global marketplace. Although Governor Pawlenty has made it more difficult for us to create jobs and turn the economy around. It means we will work even harder to look beyond these cuts to build a stronger economy and a safer region.