Minneapolis: proud home to a successful, complex Somali community

U.S. Representative Peter King is holding another hearing in Washington today on “radicalization” in Muslim communities in America, with a focus on the Somali-Community. Now when Al-Shabaab tries to recruit our youth here to fight their battles there — and sadly, sometimes succeeds in doing so — we take it very seriously: indeed, Minneapolis’ large and vibrant Somali community has been bravely dealing with this problem head-on for years, and I fully support their efforts to do so. But Minneapolis is proud to be home to a complex, many-sided Somali community that has many American success stories to tell, stories of which everyone can be proud.

Minneapolis is home to Mohamed Jama, Said Barre and Kafiya Ahmed, all young people who have interned in my office through Minneapolis’ STEP-UP jobs program. They are just a few of the scores of Somali youth who have gained meaningful employment through STEP-UP and are mapping out their own paths to success. Mohamed tells me he’s going to move into my office when he becomes mayor someday, and I don’t doubt it for a second.

Minneapolis is home to Sadia Abdi, an entrepreneur whose fantastic hot sauces are now available at farmers’ markets and groceries across Minneapolis — and whose business is growing fast. Sadia grew up in Somalia and came to Minneapolis via a refugee camp, where she gave birth to her children. She has never stopped turning her American Dream into reality. I’m proud that the City of Minneapolis has supported her business through low-interest loans, including the Alternative Financing Program that is specially designed to help Muslim entrepreneurs, a majority of them women, and has helped leverage private investment that has created or retained over 120 jobs.

Minneapolis is home to Hussein Samatar, the director of the African Development Center, which helps immigrant entrepreneurs and teaches financial literacy. Since January of this year, Hussein has also been the first Somali-American elected official anywhere in America, serving our community on the Minneapolis School Board. Hussein came to America as a trained economist speaking four languages, taught himself English, got an M.B.A. and has become a strong leader not just in the Somali community, but for all of Minneapolis.

And Minneapolis is home to the exciting new initiative Neighbors for Nations, a partnership between the Somali community and the internationally-respected American Refugee Committee, for whom Minneapolis is also home. Neighbors for Nations harnesses the community’s desire not only to alleviate suffering in Somalia, but to contribute to building a sustainable future for that country.

Youth striving for education and good careers, entrepreneurs striving for success, community members striving to give back: these deeply American stories unfold every day in Minneapolis’ Somali community.

Yes, the community faces tough challenges, including the recruitment of young men for violence and the famine in Somalia right now: it is working hard to address them, and all Minnesotans and all Americans should support them as they do so. But we cannot allow even the most serious challenges to obscure the community’s many contributions and successes. As mayor, I’m proud that Somalis call Minneapolis home.


Closed-pensions merger may have big impact on property taxes

Last week, Governor Dayton and the Legislature took a step that could have a big impact on property taxes in Minneapolis. They passed into law a merger of two closed pension funds — the Minneapolis Police Relief Association (MPRA) and the Minneapolis Fire Relief Association (MFRA) — with the State’s professionally-run Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA).

The merger is not complete: all the other parties to the agreement that we have reached must ratify it. But as long as they do so and abide by the agreement, we will have solved a 30-year problem that has led to unnecessary, skyrocketing costs that have been passed on to taxpayers.

I’d like to give you some background on the current problem, explain the solution and tell you what comes next.

Problem: a system that serves nobody well

As I explained in my budget address last year and several times since then, the MPRA and the MFRA have been a principal cause of recent property-tax increases on Minneapolis homeowners and businesses.

In its current form, I don’t think the closed-pension system serves anybody well: it maximizes risk, volatility and administrative expenses that benefit neither pensioners nor taxpayers. As a result, the system also maximizes litigation, and the court has agreed with us that taxpayers have overpaid tens of millions of dollars in the last decade.

Solution: a merger

The new law that authorizes a merger of the closed funds into the State fund is part of a compromise agreement. Because it is a compromise, by definition it does not represent everything that the City Council and I wanted. But if honored by all sides, both pensioners and taxpayers will benefit from it. Here’s how.

The benefit to pensioners is obvious: police pensioners will get a 43% increase in their benefits in just four years, while fire pensioners will see a 50% increase. By any stretch of the imagination, this is a good deal for them. So how can it be a good deal for taxpayers?

Think of this merger like refinancing a mortgage, but no ordinary re-fi: instead, imagine getting out of the worst mortgage ever invented. Imagine getting out of an adjustable-rate mortgage with interest rates well into double digits into a fixed, long-term, low-interest mortgage. A lot of value is created when you do that, and that’s what this merger does: it gets us out of a system of damaging volatility and into one of lower-cost stability while still dramatically increasing benefits for pensioners.

Without a merger, this volatility would have continued: in fact, without a merger, the impact on your property taxes in the next two years would have been just as large as it was last year. That’s why finally solving this problem has been one of my highest priorities.

What’s next

The merger is not complete. Before it can take effect, it has to be ratified six times: by the boards and the membership of the police and fire pension funds, by the State PERA board and by the City Council.

Although the agreement benefits both sides, the horizon is not entirely clear. Some members of the police fund oppose the agreement that their leaders negotiated. They argue that a 43% increase in four years is not enough.

As Mayor, I have signed the merger agreement with the leaders of the police fund and will encourage the City Council to honor it as well. I did so even though this merger does not represent everything that I felt taxpayers deserved, but I did so because it will stop unwarranted tax increases on property-tax payers and is very fair to pensioners.

As long as those who would seek to derail this agreement do not succeed, I hope to be able to share with you soon that we have finally, permanently fixed a problem that has vexed Minneapolis for 30 years.


The President Sounds Almost Like A Mayor

I was feeling a little down today about the challenging budget I am working on this Summer, until I had a chance to talk with someone who has a tougher job than mine: President Obama.

He took a few minutes from the non stop budget talks in Washington to have a phone conference with a group of Mayors—Democrats, Republicans, Independents.

The President started by saying that we can’t mess around with the economy and play brinksmanship with the debt.  He said as a leader of divided government he is willing to make some compromise to get our fiscal house in order   “That’s the form of government we have,” he said.

But there will have to be a balanced approach, he said.  “There will have to be shared sacrifices,”  that will not fall “just on middle class people trying to send kids to college but more on those who can most afford it.”

The President made clear he is making no proposal to increase taxes now….don’t believe anyone saying he is….His only tax proposals would go into effect in future years when the economy is stronger.

He said he will make tough decisions that may not please all his supporters, but will also continue to stand up for progressive principles, including focusing future tax increases on the richest, eliminating tax cuts for luxury items like private jets, creating an infrastructure bank that can put people to work and making sure all parts of the budget are cut equally.  (“The defense budget will have to be on the table.  This can’t  fall on education.”)

As he got into the details of what he is trying to do, how he is trying to bring together people with wildly divergent views in an effort to get something done, he sounded almost like a Mayor.  That, from me, is a big compliment.




This won’t hold North Minneapolis back

We learned today that FEMA did not grant our appeal for individual assistance from the May 22 tornado. We are in this together for the long haul: today’s decision is disappointing but will not hold North Minneapolis back. We have said all along that winning Individual Assistance would be tough, but we tried our hardest. We’re also doing much more: since the tornado struck, we have been casting our net very widely, working closely with all levels of government, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations and people across our community to identify and put in place as many resources as we can to help North Minneapolis recover and become stronger than ever before.