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.

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