Big victory today for Minneapolis taxpayers

I’m very happy to tell you that Minneapolis taxpayers won a big victory today.

In a clear ruling issued just this morning, the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with the City that two closed pension funds have overpaid pensioners by wrongly calculating their own benefits, and that those overpayments need to be recouped.

Simply put, the court agreed with us: the funds have overcharged Minneapolis taxpayers, and Minneapolis taxpayers will get relief.

The Court of Appeals upheld the critical parts of a lower-court ruling from one year ago that found that the funds overpaid their benefits from 2000-09, meaning that Minneapolis taxpayers were overcharged to the tune of millions of dollars.

City Council Members and I are very pleased with this ruling. It affirms what we’ve said all along: that taxpayers should and will pay City pensioners every penny that pensioners have earned, but not more than pensioners have earned.

It’s taken a long time to win justice for taxpayers: it was five years ago that we took these closed-pension funds to court to recover the overpayments that the funds refused to return to taxpayers. Today’s ruling is the latest in a series of court victories that show that defending taxpayers has been the right thing to do.

Because of today’s ruling, we have new and expanded options for protecting taxpayers, and we’re evaluating all of them. We will let you know what steps we take next, but I wanted to share the good news with you right now that Minneapolis taxpayers have won a strong, clear victory.

How you can help North Minneapolis

Last Sunday’s tornado took only a matter of minutes to race throughNorth Minneapolis, but it left a broad swath of devastation behind it from which it will take many people a long time to recover. Tragically, it took one life during the storm and another the day after. It left thousands more people frightened, without somewhere to go and uncertain about where to turn.

If you live in North Minneapolisand need housing immediately, the Red Cross shelter has just moved to the North Commons recreation center at 1801 James Ave. N. If you have needs beyond or other than shelter, the Disaster Recovery Center is now open and is open through the long weekend at Farview Park. There you can pick up basic supplies and get help with a wide variety of services. We will keep both centers open as long as we need to until people’s lives are firmly on the road to recovery.

Amid the pain and confusion, though, this weekNorth Minneapolishas also shown its deeply-rooted strength. On every block I’ve been to, I’ve seen people checking on their neighbors, lending each other a hand and sharing what they had, even when their own, personal needs were great. This is a neighborhood of strength and of heart.

No matter where you live, if you want to help, we want your help, because this city that is filled with heart needs the hands of everyone in the region to help rebuild. The largest volunteer effort we’ve ever seen, the Great Northside Volunteer Clean-Up, is happening on Saturday, June 4. In fact, we’re going to need the help of 2,000 people.

That’s a lot of hands, but all you need to do to lend yours is callMinneapolis311 and tell us you want to help. But you must call 311 to volunteer: we can’t accept your help if you don’t, so please call today. (311 is staying open this Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. to take your calls. They’ll be closed Monday for the holiday but will reopen on Tuesday.)

We have made progress: so far, over 3,000 volunteers, working alongside crews from the City, utility companies and many other jurisdictions, have cleared 1,700 truckloads of debris. As a result, now all our streets are passable and everyone’s power has been restored. We’re very grateful for everyone’s efforts, and we hope that one last, big, volunteer pass on Saturday, June 4 will clear out the last of the debris. Please call 311 today to volunteer.

State and federal emergency-management crews are also on the ground helping us assess the full extent of damage, which we hope will qualify us for additional aid. We are very grateful for all of those efforts.

If you can’t volunteer but still want to help, please consider a financial contribution to one of these funds, both of which have been set up with the help of the Minneaoplis Foundation: Minnesota HELPS—North Minneapolis Recovery Fund supports immediate humanitarian relief, and Northside Home Fund—Tornado Relief is specifically designed to support housing-recovery and rebuilding efforts. You can donate online.

To stay current on the latest news on tornado relief, please check the City’s regularly updated tornado-relief webpage.

In addition to continuing to meet the immediate challenges of making sure that people have food, clothing and shelter, we will face ongoing challenges for some time, particularly related to housing. We have a long road ahead of us as a city: it won’t be easy, but I believe deep in my heart that with everyone’s help and generosity, we will come out stronger.

Help hold the line on property taxes at the Legislature

With only 10 days to go until the end of the State legislative session, there’s a lot at stake for property-tax payers. I’m working on a lot of critical issues at once, but one thing holds them all together: holding the line on property taxes. And you can help. 

Closed-pension reform. As I wrote on Wednesday, there is good news: after years of work, a bill has been introduced to reform the closed pensions that have been the source of significant property-tax increases. The bill still hasn’t had a hearing, but when it does I’ll be there to testify on taxpayers’ behalf. In the meantime, we still need your help. Contact your legislators and tell them you support the strongest possible bill for taxpayers: one that provides a significant and long-overdue cut to residents’ and businesses’ property-tax burden, ensures cost-effective and transparent management, and puts an end to the funds’ many conflicts of interest. (If you’re not sure who represents you at the Capitol, go here and just enter your address.) 

Local Government Aid. Just last night, the Legislature agreed on a bill that would eliminate all Local Government Aid (LGA) for Minneapolis — not just cut it, but eliminate it entirely by 2014, starting with an $80 million cut this year. (That amount is nearly twice the size of the entire Fire Department.) This cut is just part of an unprecedented attack on Minnesota’s core cities, which are the economic engine of our state. 

We’ve been fighting back. Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and I have joined forces with business leaders and mayors across Minnesota, and they’re standing strong with us in defending LGA for all Minnesota cities. Governor Dayton is standing with us, too; please thank Governor Dayton for his support forMinneapolis taxpayers. 

Remember that LGA is not a handout: this year, we will send $367.5 million more in sales and commercial property taxes to the State of Minnesota than we will get back in LGA — and that’s if our LGA isn’t cut. If anything, Minneapolis helps keep Minnesota afloat

We know times are tough in Minnesota, but we’ve done our part: we’re spending 7% less than we did 10 years ago, with 1,000 fewer full-time positions. And we’ve kept our fiscal house in order: in the last 10 years, we’ve paid off $130 million in debt and restored the City’s AAA bond rating, which saves taxpayers money. 

Fighting tax increases. Last fall, the City Council and I made a decision to hold property taxes down by $10 million in 2012-13 by capping non-personnel spending in the old Neighborhood Revitalization Program while making sure that funding for ongoing neighborhood programs continues. As I wrote last week, a bill sponsored by Minneapolis Rep. Phyllis Kahn and Minneapolis Sen. Ken Kelash would drive property taxes higher by reversing our decision to lower your taxes. This bill has passed in committee but we’re still fighting hard against it, and we still need your help. Contact your legislators and tell them you oppose this $10 million tax increase

Stadiums and lower property taxes. On Monday, Council President Barb Johnson and I released a plan to lower property taxes by $50 million over 10 years as part of plan to build a new Vikings stadium on the Metrodome site, renovate theCity-ownedTargetCenter and removeTargetCenter debt from the property-tax rolls. 

I would not support any plan to just build a stadium for the Vikings, but this plan provides a significant public benefit: it finally gets us away from having to use property-tax dollars to pay forTargetCenter debt. That’s $5 million a year for the next 10 years that would have gone into paying debt that can go instead into lower property taxes for businesses and residents. It’s a solutionMinneapolis has long needed. 

We get a lower property-tax burden, a renovatedTargetCenterand a multi-purpose, world-class stadium by asking people who attend Vikings games to pay higher admission and parking fees, and by asking everyone who spends time inMinneapolis, regardless of where they live, to pay a little more in sales and consumption taxes. We also spur development and grow the tax base, which lessens the burden on everyone. 

I know opinions run strong on this issue and I respect them. I support this plan precisely because it brings down the property-tax burden on residents and businesses inMinneapolis.

You can help. When you told us last fall that your property taxes were too high, we heard you. Your voices made a difference then and they’re making a difference now. Please join City Council members and me now in these the last 10 days of the legislative session in fighting to hold the line on property taxes.

Support closed-pension reform bill and lower property taxes

I have some encouraging news for property-tax payers: after years of work and months of meetings with legislators (more than we can count), today a bill was introduced at the State Capitol to reform two closed Minneapolis pension funds that have been the source of significant property-tax increases on many Minneapolis residents and businesses. 

The author of the bill is Senator Scott Dibble of Minneapolis. The next step is for the bill to be heard by the Legislature’s Pension Commission, which we fully expect to happen either tonight or Thursday. Whenever it does, I will be there to testify on behalf ofMinneapolis property-tax payers.   

You can help: please contact your legislators today and let them know that you strongly support this bill. (If you’re not sure who your legislators are, go here and just enter your address. Reference bill number S.F. 1419 when you contact them.) 

A court has ruled that these funds overcharged Minneapolis taxpayers at least $52 million in the last decade, and taxpayers’ obligations to these closed funds — which the City does not control — have been skyrocketing:Minneapolis taxpayers are paying $15 million more in 2011 than they paid in 2010 to meet those obligations. That $15 million is more than the total amount that property taxes went up this year. 

If legislators don’t take action this year, we’re looking at an increase of similar magnitude — which we cannot control — in taxpayers’ obligations to the closed funds next year. 

Only the Legislature can change State law to fix this broken closed-pension system, end the funds’ conflicts of interest and put an end to skyrocketing costs that are driving up property taxes, all while making sure that pensioners receive the benefits they deserve. 

Take a minute right now to contact your legislators, before the hearing that will happen tonight or tomorrow. Believe me, you are making a difference. Please keep up the pressure to pass this bill to reform the broken closed pensions and stop skyrocketing property-tax hikes.

(Go here to learn more about the City’s efforts to fight for property-tax payers and reform these closed pensions.)

Keep the pressure on to keep taxes down

Today, Minneapolis taxpayers lost at the Capitol. This morning, the House of Representatives Government Operations and Elections Committee passed the bill that will raise Minneapolis property taxes by $10 million in 2012 and 2013. City Council President Barbara Johnson and I were there and testified against the bill, on your behalf.

There’s some good news: in just 24 hours, you generated stacks of phone messages and emails to legislators. Your responsiveness made a difference: as a result your efforts, we won more votes for Minneapolistaxpayers. We will be asking you to help again, especially when it comes to closed-pension reform.

So what can you do now? The first thing is to thank the representatives who voted with Minneapolis taxpayers — their names are below and you can find their contact information here. I’d especially like you to thank Minneapolis Representatives Marion Greene and Frank Hornstein, both of whom voted today with the taxpayers they represent.

But this fight isn’t over, so there’s more you can do. These bills — H.F. 1358, sponsored by Minneapolis Representative Phyllis Kahn, and S.F. 953, sponsored by Minneaoplis Senator Ken Kelash — will now come to the floor of the House and Senate for a vote. The trick is that we don’t know when this will happen — in fact, we may have no notice at all — so you should keep calling and emailing your Minneapolis legislators. to let them know you oppose this tax increase. (If you’re not sure who represents you at the Capitol, go here and just enter your address.)

As I wrote yesterday, we heard you last fall when you told us your property taxes were too high, and we did two things: the City Council and I brought down the property-tax increase for 2011, and we held down property-tax increases in 2012 and 2013 by capping non-personnel spending in the old Neighborhood Revitalization Program, while making sure that ongoing neighborhood programs are effective and transparent.

Now, unfortunately, some at the Legislature want to step in, undo that tax relief and force a tax increase on you. This is all the more frustrating as the City ofMinneapolis has been fiscally responsible: we spend 7% less than we did 10 years ago, have paid down $130 million in debt and have restored the City’s AAA credit rating, which saves taxpayers money.

I can’t guarantee that we will win this fight, but I can guarantee that your calls and emails to your legislators will make sure they know how you feel about it.

Voted with Minneapolis taxpayers

Rep. Marion Greene (DFL – Minneapolis)
Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL – Minneapolis)
Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL – Brooklyn Park)
Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R – Sartell)
Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL – Little Canada)
Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL – Golden Valley)

Voted against Minneapolis taxpayers

Rep. Michael Beard (R – Shakopee)
Rep. David Hancock (R – Bemidji) 
Rep. Carol McFarlane (R – White Bear Lake)
Rep. Rich Murray (R – Albert Lea)
Rep. Joyce Peppin (R – Rogers)
Rep. Duane Quam (R – Byron)
Rep. Tim Sanders (R – Blaine)
Rep. Steve Simon (DFL – St. Louis Park)
Rep. Dean Urdahl (R – Grove City)

Take Action Today: Stop a Property-Tax Increase

I urge you to contact your state legislators today to oppose a bill to increase Minneapolis property taxes, which is coming to a vote tomorrow morning — Thursday, May 5.

Last fall, many of you contacted the City Council and me with your concerns about property taxes. You told us your property taxes were too high, and we heard you.

That’s why when we passed the budget, we lowered the City’s property-tax increase from the projected 7.5% increase to a 4.7% increase. We did that by making cuts to nearly every part of the City budget.

At that time, we also took an important step to hold down property taxes in 2012 and 2013: we capped non-personnel spending in the old Neighborhood Revitalization Program while making sure that funding for ongoing neighborhood programs continues.

Now, however, a bill at the Legislature — sponsored by Minneapolis Senator Ken Kelash and Minneapolis Representative Phyllis Kahn — would reverse that action. Make no mistake: if passed, this bill would increase your property taxes next year and in 2013 by $10 million.

Representative Kahn’s bill is being heard in a Minnesota House of Representatives committee at the Capitol on Thursday morning — which is why I’m asking you to take action today. (Senator Kelash’s bill has already passed a committee in the Minnesota Senate.)

This bill flies in the face of Minneapolis taxpayers’ wishes and raises property taxes. It reverses at the State Capitol what the City Council and I did on your behalf here in Minneapolis to hold your property taxes down — which you told us forcefully you wanted us to do.

You can help stop this bill: contact your Minneapolis legislators today and tell them to hold the line on property taxes and not force a property-tax increase on you. If you’re not sure who your Minneapolis legislators are, go here and just enter your address. (When you contact your legislators, the House bill number is H.F. 1358; the Senate bill number is S.F. 953.)

On Thursday morning, I will be at the Capitol with Council President Barbara Johnson to testify against this bill. If you’d like to join us and come tell House members yourself why they shouldn’t raise your taxes, here’s the information you need:

What: A hearing on H.F. 1358, a bill to increase your taxes.

When: This Thursday, May 5, starting at 10:15 a.m.

Where: Room 5, basement of the State Office Building 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Saint Paul

Who: House of Representatives Government Operations and Elections Committee (Click here to see the list of committee members.)

But whether you call, email or testify in person, make your voices heard like you did last fall. We can’t allow legislators in Saint Paul to ignore Minneapolis taxpayers and impose a property-tax increase on us.