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Rybak fires back at GOP lawmaker over 'wasteful spending' charge

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Mayor R.T. Rybak
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak speaks to the media about Minneapolis' crime rate in this file photo from July 22, 2010.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak fired back Tuesday after a Republican lawmaker accused the city of wasteful spending.

State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, made the comments during floor debate Monday on a proposal to eliminate local government aid to cities and counties.  Drazkowski said Minneapolis is wasting state taxpayer money on a long list of programs, including funding for public art and the Target Center's green roof.

"The LGA money is being spent for garden space, for bike to church Sundays program, a low-carbon cook-off, Hour Cab, neighborhood energy conservation, energy sustainable parks, $88,392 for climate change grants," Drazkowski, whose district includes parts of Goodhue, Wabasha and Winona counties, said. 

In an interview with MPR News on Tuesday, Mayor Rybak said the Drazkowski's list was "based on wildly inaccurate figures and taken out of context."

Rybak said a closer look at city spending shows that the money isn't being wasted. For example, he said, the green roof on the Target Center absorbs water and helps the city fulfill a state mandate to reduce the risk of major flooding of the Mississippi River.  

"Let's look at those green roofs," Rybak said. "We're in a period of flooding in this state. One million gallons of water is captured on that green roof at Target Center that's not going to create flooding in this state."

Rybak said most of the city's spending goes toward public safety, not on the programs mentioned by Drazkowski.

"If you really went line by line through what the representative was saying, the entire amount that we spent on our art project is less than the decorative letters in front of the revenue department that the state does," he said. "Let's get honest with ourselves."

Rybak also criticized the bill passed by the Republican-controlled House that includes a phase-out of local government aid, or LGA, to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. 

"Almost $300 million has been cut from the city of Minneapolis," he said. "We've taken a huge share of the cut, and we anticipate more, and we should. Every single layer of government has to get smaller. That's what's important. We recognize that. We're doing that.

"We're doing it in partnership as well with other people," Rybak continued. "But the divisive rhetoric I hear over there, that somehow creates the illusion that if you simply cut spending to the three largest cities in the state everything would be OK, is baloney."

An edited transcript of the MPR News interview with Mayor Rybak is below. 

Tom Crann: Mayor Rybak, listening to that list, does the representative have a point?

Mayor R.T. Rybak: He has a point that is based on wildly inaccurate figures and taken out of context. Here's the real point that people should be focused on. Bottom line is the city of Minneapolis generates far more for the state than we get back, about $400 million more than we got back in LGA now. We generated a total of $2.68 billion in sales tax and commercial and industrial tax from 2003 to 2008. (EDS. NOTE: An earlier version of this transcript incorrectly quoted Mayor Rybak as saying $40 million instead of $400 million. This has been corrected and we apologize for any confusion.)

Minneapolis is an economic engine for the state, and our ability to succeed depends on an ongoing partnership. The city of Minneapolis is spending 7 percent less than we spent 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The state cannot say that. We have 10 percent fewer employees than we did 10 years ago. And by the way, during this period of time in which the state has cut almost $300 million from the city of Minneapolis, we have paid off $130 million in debt, which has restored our Triple-A bond rating. The state of Minnesota cannot say that.

Crann: I won't go through each item on the list, but are there just some things that Minneapolis won't be able to afford, that there still are trims that could be made that wouldn't necessarily affect public safety?

Rybak: Absolutely, and I think we all have to do that. But if you really went line by line through what the representative was saying, the entire amount that we spent on our art project is less than the decorative letters in front of the revenue department that the state does. Let's get honest with ourselves. 

Let's look at those green roofs. We're in a period of flooding in this state. One million gallons of water is captured on that green roof at Target Center that's not going to create flooding in this state. The city of Minneapolis was under a state mandate to lessen dramatically the amount of water we put in the Mississippi, and we've delivered, and by doing that we've lessened flooding in this state.  

So when people take things out of context and don't understand what they're for, they don't make a whole lot of sense. I could go line by line through any of the state budgets and come up with some outrageous things. 

But the fact of the matter is the largest city in this state has focused primarily its spending on public safety. We've lowered crime to dramatic lows. We've created jobs, and we're moving this economy forward, and we have restored fiscal stability to the city where our bond rating had been lost a decade ago. Now I'm proud of that work. 

Crann: As you look at this debate over local government aid -- in the House they have targeted Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth -- do you think it's realistic to expect that Minneapolis will escape any cuts to LGA at all?

Rybak: Almost $300 million has been cut from the city of Minneapolis. We've taken a huge share of the cut, and we anticipate more, and we should. Every single layer of government has to get smaller. That's what's important. We recognize that. We're doing that. 

We're doing it in partnership as well with other people. But the divisive rhetoric I hear over there that somehow creates the illusion that if you simply cut spending to the three largest cities in the state, everything would be OK, is baloney. The state of Minnesota's spending has gone up far greater than the city of Minneapolis'. The point is both of us have to do cuts, and so does everybody else in this state.

Crann: If the LGA for Minneapolis were to disappear and the House Republicans were to prevail here, what impact would that have? 

Rybak: The cuts that are being proposed are of an enormous number. (It would) have a big impact on the city of Minneapolis. I can give you all sorts of nightmare scenarios, but I think people are sick of nightmare scenarios. The reality is it would ... have a huge impact, but frankly, it would also have a huge impact on Minneapolis' ability to continue to be the economic engine for the state. 

Minneapolis produced $400 million more in commercial, industrial and in sales taxes last year than we got in LGA. If there was a massive cut to the city that affected every part of this city, our ability to continue to deliver dramatically more to the state than we get back would be hurt. 

(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR reporter Madeleine Baran)