Cuts to energy and racial equity programs were restored to Minneapolis’ 2015 budget Wednesday evening after a lengthy and sometimes emotional debate between members of the City Council.
Mayor Betsy Hodges’ $1.2 billion proposal passed just after 11 p.m. following a series of 7-6 split votes on more than a dozen motions to move money around. In the end, only one council member voted no.
The council cut away even further at Hodges’ proposed 2.4 percent levy increase, dropping it to 2.1 percent by eliminating two new communications positions. They also restored two major priorities for activists: $75,000 that had been previously cut from a new clean energy partnership with utility companies and $150,000 to the city’s minority leadership program.
Those programs were re-funded through reductions to the Convention Center’s marketing fund and a reduction in planned spending on a Civil Rights Department disparity study.
The vote capped a monthslong budget process that turned divisive in recent weeks, as council members sparred over the best way to fund programs aimed at eliminating large disparities between white and minority residents.
On Wednesday, council members and many of the approximately 60 people who spoke in a public hearing before the vote spoke passionately about the need to address racial equity in Minneapolis. Many speakers warned the council — both in speeches at the podium and chants that echoed through council chambers — that many of its members ran on equity platforms and would be held accountable for their votes in the next election.
“Do not turn your backs on us,” said speaker Cathy Jones, who urged funding for programs focused on clean energy and minorities. “Some of you ran on a campaign of equity. You need to do the job you said you would do.”
Council members in both voting blocs told the crowd they believed they were doing the right thing for the city.
Council Members Abdi Warsame and Blong Yang, who proposed the motion that eventually re-funded the programs in question, both said they are well aware of the needs of the city’s minority and immigrant communities. The two are the city’s first Somali-American and Hmong-American council members, respectively.
Over shouts from some in the crowd, Warsame referenced his background as a refugee, saying he was “insulted” that people had “second-guessed” his reasoning or actions on the budget. Yang said he believes solving divides in wealth, job opportunities and other areas is a bigger issue than the funds and programs up for debate Wednesday.
“Equity to me is not a buzzword or a campaign promise,” he said. “It’s a fight I have to take part in every day for my neighbors.”
Warsame and Yang were also part of the group that cut the programs last week, along with Council Members Linea Palmisano, Lisa Goodman, Jacob Frey, Kevin Reich and Council President Barb Johnson.
Council members on the other side of the divide, however, said the threatened cuts — and those that were actually made — hurt the city’s efforts to make life better for all its residents.
“We are zeroing out this opportunity to stay true to what I think has been our goal to be a global city,” Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said as the council debated cuts. “We have global residents here. We are growing in how we want to be attractive to the world.”
The budget will raise about $6 million more in property taxes for the city’s coffers through a 2.2 percent boost in total tax collections. Much of the increase is attributed to inflation, debt for recent road repairs and rising Park Board costs.
The modest levy increase hasn’t drawn ire from many homeowners, partly because a growing tax base allowed more than 57 percent of them to escape with a tax decrease. Apartment building owners were harder hit, however, with about 75 percent seeing some tax increase.
Public safety will get a funding boost, with the Police Department seeing a 4 percent bump to its $148 million budget, including money for more community service officers and cadets and $1.1 million for body cameras.
The budget marks the first time the city has met the goal of funding its affordable housing trust fund above $10 million. The City Council boosted the fund’s allocation to $10.5 million earlier this month by tapping excess dollars in other accounts.
It also represents the first major investment in protected bike lanes, which are sprouting up in greater numbers in other bike-friendly cities across the U.S. The mayor proposed $790,000 for the lanes, which drew enthusiastic support from the city’s bicycle advocacy groups.
Starting next year, the city also will raise solid waste fees by $48 a year for single-family homes, largely to roll out a new organics collection program. The new charge will hit more than 100,000 properties across the city, though city officials expect only about 40 percent of them to opt in. The program won’t cover rental dwellings with more than four units.
Council members ended the five-hour meeting by noting that the budget process had revealed deep divisions among their ranks.
“It almost feels like it was a power struggle going on here, rather than an effort to make a budget for a better city,” said Council Member Cam Gordon.