The politics, response, and the difference
The Detroit bankruptcy debacle may be a harbinger of fiscal problems of other major cities. Unfortunately, the media have elected to avoid a sensitive subject — politics. Public employees, notably in large cities, were granted generous defined benefit pensions, in lieu of wage and other benefit increases. The cities and the public-employee unions were almost all run by Democrats, who curried favor with the unions for political support.
As the years passed and the municipal revenues declined for various reasons, contributions to the pension funds remained the same, obviously resulting in inadequate funding. Local politicians were apparently unwilling to do battle with the unions; the pensions became increasingly underfunded.
The political consideration of the growing pension problem is that the voters should elect officials whose fiscal decisions should be based on hard economics, not political loyalties. Detroit is not alone in this problem. Local governments may well be better off guided by conservatives, not by politicians tied to public-employee unions.
SEYMOUR HANDLER, Edina
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Talk about distorted priorities. We can spend trillions of dollars on two unnecessary wars, and tens of billions to bail out a corrupted banking system, but we can’t find $18 billion to bail out the city of Detroit and its 700,000 residents. We should be ashamed.
ALAN MILLER, Eagan
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Detroit has revitalized its downtown but neglected its neighborhoods. So people have fled, and the shrunken tax base cannot cover the bills or support the services needed to keep a city alive.
I live in Minneapolis, a city with problems but also a city with healthy neighborhoods and thus a sufficient tax base. I give credit for this happy circumstance to the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), which for 20 years spent city and state money to “make the city’s residential areas better places to live, work, learn and play.” The NRP website explains that it is an “investment program.”
I hope that a new NRP is created soon to keep Minneapolis a vital city. I hope that those of us who may have complained about spending tax money on neighborhoods see how that spending kept our property values high and our jobs alive. I hope that suburbanites who come to my city for restaurants, theater, museums and sporting events see that state tax dollars gave them a cultural and entertainment center that they can enjoy even though they don’t live in that center.
ELAINE FRANKOWSKI, Minneapolis
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DOWNTOWN EAST PROJECT
Add a bike center, but spare the street grid
Last week, the Minneapolis City Council approved plans to proceed with Downtown East, which will include new commercial and residential buildings surrounding a two-block public park.
The project presents an excellent opportunity for Minneapolis to establish a full-service bike center for the growing number of people who want to commute by bike instead of single-occupant car. Imagine being able to bike to your job in downtown and end your ride at a clean, welcoming facility that offers secure indoor bike parking, showers, lockers, changing rooms, laundry and towel service, bike repair and washing, with convenient skyway access?
Think of a “home away from home” for the bike commuter, making the option more appealing (and less costly) to those who would bike if these services were available. The cost of the bike center could be offset by user fees, as well as revenue from bike-related retail (parts, accessories, repair service) and food and beverage offered within the center itself.
Chicago already has such a facility, the McDonald’s Cycle Center at Millennium Park. We should plan our own, first-class bike center as part of Downtown East, and help secure our place as the top biking city in North America.
MARC BERG, St. Louis Park
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“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is attributed to Albert Einstein as a definition of insanity. Cities from Thunder Bay to Tulsa — along with Minneapolis — have created superblocks for shopping malls, sports facilities and big-box stores breaking up vital street grids. Each has produced disastrous results. Proposals to close sections of Park and Portland Avenues in Downtown East for (much-needed) green space is an idea worthy of Einstein’s definition. Comprehensive city plans built around parks have produced great results. However, piecemeal disruption of a function street grid in the urban core will produce predictable results. Will we ever learn?
TOM BORRUP, Minneapolis
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Beware narrow studies suggesting that it’s safe
According to a July 20 headline, “Fracking appears safe.” However, the reported Department of Energy study focused just on whether chemicals injected deep into the ground to secure gas and oil contaminate drinking water. The primary risk has always been the safe transport of these toxic chemicals and the leakage from ponds where waste chemicals are stored. Such leakage has already been documented in some communities.
Another major risk not addressed in the report, but profiled in a research study published recently in the journal Science, is injection-induced earthquakes. While such earthquakes tend to be minor, a 5.6 magnitude event in Oklahoma in 2011 destroyed 14 homes and injured two people. These quakes, too, are generally not caused by the fracking itself, but by the injection of wastewater at nearby disposal well sites.
One narrow study alone does not guarantee the safety of fracking.
DOUGLAS ALLCHIN, St. Paul