Winning score for Minneapolis

All of a sudden, Minnesotans can look at the scoreboard again and feel proud.

  • The Twins took both ends of a doubleheader on Sunday, with the second win coming in extra innings, against the playoff-contending Detroit Tigers.
  • The Vikings are now 2-1, with an upset win Sunday over a strong San Francisco 49ers team.
  • The Lynx are headed to the playoffs with the best record in the WNBA.
  • Gopher football is 4-0 after their 17-10 win on Saturday against a Syracuse team that had been averaging 40 points a game. And for good measure, Gopher men’s hockey is ranked #1 in the nation in the pre-season.

There’s another scoreboard that says great things about Minneapolis, this time with three letters: AAA.

Late last week, all three national bond-rating agencies — Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s — rated  the City of Minneapolis’ bonds AAA, the highest rating possible, and called our financial outlook “stable.”

At a time when the economy is still recovering and many levels of government are struggling with cuts and deficits, these ratings agencies said Minneapolis is a good, safe bet.

  • Moody’s, praising Minneapolis’ “well-managed financial operations,” said that “the stable outlook reflects the strength of the underlying economy that is recovering from recessionary challenges, and that financial operations will remain strong.”
  • Fitch said that Minneapolis “benefits from conservative financial management resulting in stable financial performance,” remarking that “management has prudently dealt with potential budgetary challenges.” It also noted that our “broad and diverse economy continues to show resilience.”

AAA is a winning score, but this win did not come all of a sudden. It’s the result of a lot of determined, hard work and tough financial choices over the past 10 years.

The first tough choice we made is paying down debt. A decade ago, Minneapolis was in a fiscal crisis: the City had piled too much debt on the credit card and our bond rating had been devalued, which meant it cost taxpayers more to borrow for important projects like roads and bridges.

We developed a hard-nosed financial plan to pay down debt and stop using the credit card. As a result, in 10 years we have paid down $241 million in debt. And doing so means that we are now able to borrow for more productive priorities at lower rates of interest, which is important for the aggressive road improvements that my 2013 budget makes.

The second tough choice we made is watching our own spending, year after year. Compared to 10 years ago, the City of Minneapolis is spendingonly 4% more — and in 2013, our spending decreases by more than 3%.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there are real-life impacts to the decade of sustained cuts that we have made. We have 12% fewer full-time positions than we had 10 years ago, which means some very good public servants no longer work for the City of Minneapolis, and other very good public servants are doing a lot more.

The third tough choice we made is reforming Minneapolis’ closed pensions.  Ten years ago, we were staring a long-term fiscal disaster in the face, in the form of taxpayers’ exploding obligations to several closed pension funds. In the case of two of those pension funds, the deck was severely stacked against us.

It took years of heavy lifting to get this monkey off taxpayers’ backs, but we succeeded: in 2011, the last of these pensions were finally merged with the State’s PERA system. While the merger was a compromise and did not give taxpayers everything we wanted, it has provided much-needed stability and predictability.

And in 2012, we are finally retiring all of our pension debt.

It’s important to remember that we’ve restored Minneapolis’ financial health over the last 10 years despite two recessions — one of them the biggest since the Great Depression — and a seemingly never-ending fiscal crisis at the State.

It didn’t come easy, but it’s paying off for all of us.

So next time you look at the scoreboard — and let’s hope the numbers keep looking good for our home teams — remember the letters AAA. Most of us may not have much to do with whether our home sports teams win, but we all played a big role in this win.

Advertisements

Investing in jobs and the economy

In the past couple weeks, I’ve written about the investments in our streets and infrastructure — the common ground that helps everyone succeed — and in making sure those streets are safe that are in my 2013 budget. Today, I’d like to write about my budget’s investments in helping people find jobs and growing Minneapolis’ economy.

Investing in people

During the toughest years of the great recession, we have kept up our investments in our workforce programs that help people train for and find jobs. Minneapolis is one of the few cities in the country to coordinate its own workforce programs, which means we work closely with employers to train and place workers in growing sectors of the economy.

Those investments, which I continue in my 2013 budget, have made a difference. From 2008– 2011, we placed 4,051 dislocated workers and hard-to-employ adults in good jobs. This investment is one reason that Minneapolis’ most recent unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent, the lowest since the recession began in late 2008.

We still have a long way to go to recover, and too many families have lost jobs, homes and prosperity. But there are encouraging signs that we’re on the right path, and Minneapolis routinely tops national lists of cities recovering fastest from the recession, or the best cities to find a job or start a career.

At the same time, Minneapolis tops a list that none of us is proud of: we have one of the largest gaps between white and African American employment in America. My budget continues to invest in closing this shameful disparity through the One Minneapolis initiative.

One of the most successful aspects of One Minneapolis is RENEW. Initially funded by stimulus dollars from the Obama Administration, RENEW trains and places people in green-economy jobs who have faced challenges finding employment. We’ve gotten strong results here as well: we have trained 586 people and placed two-thirds of them in jobs in 21st-century economy.

We are also training the workforce of tomorrow. Since we started the STEP-UP summer-jobs program in 2004, we have placed almost 18,000 Minneapolis young people in good-paying summer jobs with most of the city’s best companies and nonprofits. More than 85% of them are kids of color, 93% of them are from families living in poverty and 50% of them are from immigrant families. These youth are our future workforce and the future of our prosperity.

Investing in business

My budget will continue to invest in people, and in helping businesses succeed, particularly small businesses.

From 2008–11, we have used a variety of low-cost financing tools to make almost 700 low-interest loans to businesses — during a time when private capital for growing jobs and businesses has been extremely difficult to come by. These loans have sparked much greater investment: $21.2 million in loans has leveraged $2.33 billion in private financing. And those dollars have put or kept people in jobs: they created 1,854 construction jobs and created or retained 2,547 permanent jobs.

Note that these are not blank checks: these are loans that are repaid with an extremely high success rate.

Another investment we will continue to make is our joint efforts with the State of Minnesota to grow our exports sector, where there is room for growth. A study released just yesterday by the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that our work is getting results: the value of exports from the metro area grew by almost 13% in just one year, or an additional $3 billion. This translates into jobs and new business right here in Minneapolis.

The infrastructure of economic growth

The infrastructure that supports job creation and economic growth in Minneapolis is our Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, called CPED, which we created 10 years ago to be our central job-creating and economic-development hub.

CPED is getting the job done: since the recession began, Minneapolis’ commercial tax base lost $1.5 billion in value — but, in the same period of time, commercial properties in which CPED has invested grew in value by $300 million.

The additional revenues that CPED investments generate help us maintain our streets, keep them safe — and hold property taxes down. This is why I add resources in my 2013 budget for CPED to continue this important work.

Please let me know what you think about my budget and our investments in jobs and economic growth. Contact me here or me at rt@minneapolis.org, with “Growth” in the subject line. I will keep these updates about the 2013 budget coming.

Investing in a safe place to call home

I wrote last week about the significant investments that we are making in Minneapolis’ streets, roads, bikeways and critical infrastructure in. Investing in streets is critical — and in this second in a series of emails about my 2013 budget, I’d like to talk about how we’re investing in making them safer.

Making Minneapolis a safe place to call home has been our top priority at the City of Minneapolis for the last decade. In 2012, we are putting 56 percent of all dollars in the General Fund — the fund into which almost all property taxes go, along with Local Government Aid from the State of Minnesota — into public safety.

And this level of investment has shown results: in 2011, violent crime fell 42% compared to 2005, for a 28-year low.

There is much more to do: one violent or property crime committed in Minneapolis is too many, and we face special challenges in fighting illegal guns and the people who arm our children with illegal guns. But Minneapolis is dramatically safer than it was in the last decade, because of the investments we’ve made.

Prevention and partnerships

My 2013 budget will make significant new investments in both police and fire — but before I talk about spending more money, I want to highlight some of the many ways that we are spending effectively the money we already have, through prevention and partnerships.  

  • Using smart technology and cutting-edge analytics, the Minneapolis Police Department has become a national leader in predictive policing. Our police don’t just react to where crime has occurred: we are increasingly able to predict where it will occur and prevent it before it happens.
  • Our Downtown 100 initiative — an innovative partnership between the City, business, nonprofits, advocates and community — has led to a 78 percent decrease in violent crimes committed by chronic offenders downtown, and has just won another national award for our police and city attorneys.
  • Our Youth Violence Prevention initiative that has led to a 59 percent drop in youth involved in violent crime since 2006, and this budget invests in it more. In addition, as we reach the five-year anniversary of our Blueprint for Action, the Police Executive Research Foundation and attorney Andy Luger are launching an independent review of our successes and challenges, and will propose best practices from around the country for us to integrate.
  • Our partnerships with community-based partners have taken tremendous pressure off our police and their budget. None has been more critical to our efforts, and given so much hope at times of great despair, as Mad Dads, led by V.J. Smith. This budget provides a $50,000 grant to help them continue their work to end the destruction caused by drugs and gun violence and heal communities.

Police

This partnership and prevention makes our police more effective, but we need to put our money where our mouth is, so my 2013 budget puts $2.5 million more in the Police Department budget in order to: 

  • Promote our community service officers to sworn officers in September.
  • Hire a new class of community service officers in January.
  • Start a new recruit class to be hired as sworn officers in March.

The goal is for 10 additional officers to be on the streets by next summer when we need them most, after counting the retirements that we expect to happen next year.

Fire

We are also investing in the Fire Department, which an outside report recently praised as efficient and well operated, with excellent response times. This budget invests $1.1 million more for firefighters in this budget and in each of the next five years. I also proposed starting a new firefighter recruit class this year, using one-time 2012 dollars. We are also getting help in hiring firefighters from a $1 million Obama Administration grant.

Investing more in the Fire Department equals planning for the future. Our Fire Department is rapidly aging: in part because we have had historically low levels of retirements in recent years, the average age of a firefighter is now 46. A surge of retirements — a “silver tsunami” — could happen at any point, so we need to be building more homegrown staff for the future. The Police Department faces the same challenge, which is another reason we’re investing there, too.

How we pay for it

Both the Police and Fire Departments are funded almost entirely by our General Fund, which is where most property taxes go, as well where Local Government Aid from the State goes. So when you wonder what your property taxes are spent on, a big part of the answer is that 56% of the General Fund, which property taxes support, is spent on public safety.

Once again, I’d like to know what you think about the budget and our investments in safety. Contact me here or me at rt@minneapolis.org, with “Infrastructure” in the subject line.