GOP War on Cities Begins and Ends with Hypocrisy

[Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), second from left, cutting a massive road project ribbon.]
The low rumbling sound you hear in Saint Paul these days isn't the re-construction of Wabasha Street. It's the continuing attempts to erode the financial solvency of urban Minnesota. This has been going on all session with the strange obsession with anti-urban (and pro-rural?) politics coming out of the Republican-controlled house, but yesterday's article in the Star Tribune about draconian cuts to the state's three largest (and poorest) cities sets a new low bar.

It shouldn't be necessary to point out that Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Duluth are the three cities in the state that are coping with the largest amount of (racially concentrated) poverty, but that's the simple truth. Glancing at map of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and a tiny handful of suburbs) are where all the poor people of color live.

[Poor brown people shaded in purple.]
Note that this comes on top of the 5-county metro area's attempts to ignore racial inequality by attacking the Met Council's new (and still largely symbolic) recognition of poverty as a factor in transportation spending.  The fact that this small step toward redressing long-standing racially problematic policies is being fought so vociferously makes the race and class dynamics of Minnesota politics surprisingly clear... That is, if you're paying attention.

Simply put, by going directly at the three core cities, the GOP is attacking poor people and people of color. Whatever urban vitality we might have is caught in the crossfire.

Regional and State Policy: Not Dead Yet!

The bigger picture is a policy battle over whether we think about policies at a regional or state-wide level. The LGA program is a recurring political football whereby wealthy cities pool money to give to poorer cities. Along with the Met Council's planning and transportation programs, the metro-area tax-base sharing fund, and the vague Minnesotan predilection for income over property taxes, it's one of the few so-called "Minnesota miracle" programs lingering around since the 1970s.

In the case of a city like Duluth, which is struggling with large areas of poverty and aging infrastructure, and is so cash-strapped that it routinely considers selling off its museum holdings, cutting the city budget is literally undermining the marginal lives of tens of thousands of poor people in Minnesota.

Here's the most eye-opening part of the Star Tribune story:

David Montgomery, Duluth’s chief administrative officer, told lawmakers, “Our entire fire department budget is $14.8 million. We could eliminate our fire department completely and we would still have to find $5 million to cut.”
Montgomery said such a massive cut in aid would likely force Duluth to lay off 300 of its 830 employees.
Anyone who's been paying attention to Duluth city budgets lately knows that a cut like this would be a death sentence. The same kind of effect would happen in Minneapolis or Saint Paul.

[A sign of things to come if the GOP gets its way.]

The Hypocritical Case of Rogers, MN

[Counties subsidized by the state are colored in red.]
The particularly ironic part of the picture is that out-state Minnesota already receives massive amounts of redistributive income from the wealthier urban areas.

If you read the next two paragraphs of the article, you get this precious quote from Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), the Minnesota House Majority leader:
But House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, maintained that the three cities are getting more than their share of local government aid, known as LGA.
“Minneapolis and St. Paul do get a large portion of LGA. I think it’s something that needs to be looked at, frankly,” Peppin said. The city of Rogers does not get local state aid.

It's ironic because Rogers, a tiny exurban town of about 9,000 people, has been by far the #1 recipient of Governor Dayton's transportation spending slush fund, the "Corridors of Commerce" program. As I wrote back in 2014, when Dayton's Mn-DOT back-room list was first revealed, the program is a way to funnel money directly to "key transportation investments", which often means rural roads. For some reason, Rogers, in Peppin's home district, received the lions share:

[$130M in state general fund dollars doing directly into Peppin's district last year.]

I wrote back in 2014 that it seemed stupid to spend so much of the Governor's discretionary transportation budget in and around Rogers, a place that has about as much chance of supporting DFL policies as Charlie Brown has of kicking the football. Since those massively expensive freeway investments, there's been a huge industrial warehousing boom all throughout Rogers and Peppin's district. If you listen to people like Peppin, all that new economic activity is simple reflecting the free market. In reality, it represnts a return on the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dolalrs that have poured into Rogers over the last few years.

The GOP's anti-urban, anti-poor rhetoric should be called out for the race and class war that it is. It's the Minnesota wing of the Scott Walker revolution going on next door. Lets hope this is the last we hear about it.

[Rogers: a great place to play lacrosse and pretend poor people don't exist.]

1 comment:

Anders Bloomquist said...

Bill, bravo. This is exactly the type 'connecting the pieces' journalism that is needed at every stage of conversations about who in the state gets what money.

The phenomena you describe here is the sad, full actualization of the famous Lee Atwater quote (I'll opt not to link, it's there on the googles). Without saying a single offensive word a group of politicians are able to receive lots of development money that far outweighs what they've been pumping into state coffers in previous years, then turn around and declare that other areas (that just happen to have poor and/or large non-white populations) are getting way more than their fair share.

I'd be impressed if it weren't so offensive.