I heard Mayors Chris Coleman of St. Paul and R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis discussing their city budget priorities and possible solutions to the damage that Minnesota’s $5 billion biannual shortfall will cause. Neither could utter the words "I will raise taxes," though each came close. We all know too well how standing for increased taxation will be used by the opposition to beat down support for balanced services and taxation.

 

Both mayors are facing declining revenues for a variety of reasons while also experiencing an increase in the cost of services. There is only one responsible path toward equilibrium, and that is to raise revenue.

But how can Minneapolis tackle this problem without hitting the "third rail" of conservative economics — raising taxes? By increasing the city’s population.

Minnesota is one of the few Midwestern states still growing in population. The Twin Cities metro area is projected to grow by 1 million residents during the next decade. What Minneapolis must do is to attract as many as possible of the individuals and families who will be moving to the area. It’s worked before, and it will work again.

In the 1950s, Minneapolis was home to more than 560,000 people. Tax revenues were smaller than today and services were more limited, but there was enough money to think of the future. Today no one thinks of expanding services; we are all focused on which services we will lose.

Now, Minneapolis has about 375,000 people. Our service offerings are substantially greater, and we are taxed more, because there are fewer of us to tax. Pretty simple math. The resulting disparity between taxes collected and services offered is causing the city, the parks and recreation department, the library system and the school district to strip off activities, staff and facilities, leading to dissatisfaction at all levels.

The solution? We must set a goal of growing our population, and through that expansion, increase revenues. Following the white flight to the suburbs in the ’60s and ’70s, Minneapolis saw a steady decline in population. Even though there has been a recent resurgence in population growth, it has not been enough to make up the necessary gap between the services we want as Minneapolitans and the revenues available to pay for them. We should set a goal of growing our population by 5 to 10 percent each year for the next 10 years.

With that increased density, what could we expect the city to look like? More like San Francisco, but without the hills. Neighborhoods would be more populated, and with increased numbers of feet on the street, crime would go down, the number of local retail and service establishments would go up, our streets would be plowed more regularly in the winter, and our parks would be staffed to support the programs that would keep kids safe and off the street in the summer. And taxes would stabilize or (gasp) even go down.

This scenario should meet both Democratic and Republican approval. How would we do it? We would focus the minds of City Council members, neighborhood organizations and individual community leaders (secular and religious) on attracting community growth by investing in the development of housing — not exclusively, but substantially. We would aggressively encourage our graduating college seniors to stay in the area, perhaps by subsidizing their college debt. We would open up large areas of land along the river and in the Hwy. 280 corridor to new neighborhood development. We would lure residents to the area from out of state using the city’s commitment to growth and healthy communities.

Most importantly, we would stop this insane argument about taxation and would focus on revenue production.

Now more than ever, we must not falter in committing to create a desirable, livable, clean and affordable city.

Lew Moran, Minneapolis, is an architect and planner.