Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges should release her detailed 2018 budget proposal now — not on Sept. 12, as she announced last week. Residents, property owners and others with a stake in the city’s fiscal health need time to study the plan before the first public hearing on Sept. 13.
After a city official filed a complaint, a Hennepin County judge said Hodges had to produce a full budget by Friday or appear in court to explain the delay. But there really is no persuasive reason for missing the Aug. 15 deadline set in city statutes.
The Minneapolis mayor is required to file a detailed budget with the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the City Council by Aug. 15, according to the city’s charter. Hodges published the general outline of her budget proposal that day but did not release the line-by-line plan for the $1.4 billion spending package.
Hodges argues that the police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, the Minnehaha Academy explosion and the police leadership change are reasons for the delay. She said she needed additional time to incorporate the budget ideas of recently confirmed Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. The mayor added that there is precedent for her decision: Former Mayor R.T. Rybak put off his budget talk in 2007 after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed and again in 2011 after a tornado ripped through north Minneapolis and while assessing the impact of a special session of the Legislature.
In our view, the situations are very different. The 35W bridge collapse and the tornado demanded more attention from the mayor’s office than the Damond and Minnehaha Academy tragedies. And, as the former chief of staff in the Police Department, Arradondo would have been involved with budget planning well before he was appointed as acting chief on July 21.
The news that Hodges took the time to attend a campaign fundraiser in California four days after Damond was killed doesn’t help her case. If she had time to shake the avocado trees for cash, she and her staff should have been able to meet the budget deadline. It’s worth noting that Hodges is running for re-election against a large and competitive field of candidates. No doubt she would like to avoid spending any more time than necessary defending her proposed budget.
In the budget outline, the mayor proposes a 5.5 percent property tax increase. For an owner-occupied home worth $166,500, that would raise the city portion of the property tax bill by $61, or 7.3 percent. The owner of an apartment building worth $5 million would pay $2,346 more in annual property taxes, or 6.5 percent. The tax hike would help pay for police and public works budget increases of 7.2 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively, as well as continued funding for a 20-year street and parks maintenance plan.
Carol Becker, one of two elected members of the six-person Board of Estimate and Taxation, filed a complaint in Hennepin County Court late last week arguing that the delay violated the city charter and was a disservice to citizens. In response, a judge ruled that Hodges must produce a budget by Friday or “show cause” for further delay.
Hopefully, Judge Mary Vasaly will see the greater public good in rejecting unnecessary delays. The Board of Estimate and Taxation must vote on setting a maximum tax levy soon after the Sept. 13 hearing. After its own analysis — and likely after adding amendments — the City Council will approve a budget in December.
Before any of that happens, community members should have as much time as possible to evaluate and comment on proposed budget details. And if that means Hodges and other mayoral candidates will spend more time debating budget priorities and the burden on taxpayers, all the better.