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Commentary NRP Funds…Are Mpls. City Hall Democrats still Democrats? Party of Compassion?? Do the Math!! The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Poorer and Neighborhoods, too

By Carol Pass

In the midst of watching the destruction of the democratic right of collective bargaining going on next door in Wisconsin, an action bought and paid for by the billionaire Koch brothers, I attended a meeting called by a group of Democratic legislators. A graph was handed out, shown here, of the seriously regressive taxation rates current in Minnesota. Fellow Democrats in the room expressed outrage at years of too much political control by wealthy Republicans and at how regressive taxation has distorted the economy of the American populace into a tiny group of haves and a major group of have nots….so much so that a current magazine with clear legitimacy ran an article entitled ‘Plutocracy Now!’ (rule by the rich), a play on the name of the TV show ‘Democracy Now’.

The graph put out by the State Department of Revenue showed those making from $9,000 to $86,000 paying an average of 12% of their income for taxes, while those earning $447,000 and above paying only 8.9%. These wealthy folks use far more of the public resources from airports to roads to electricity, etc. yet they pay a far smaller percentage of their income in taxes than the middle and lower middle classes, who carry the greatest, by percentage income, of the tax load. How fair is this?? But these figures are primarily the result of the actions of the Republican Party. We Democrats in the room expected such.

Now look at the other figure, an analysis of the reapportioning by the Minneapolis Mayor and City Council of the NRP dollars once allocated by the legislature to the Neighborhoods. By the action of the “Democrats” of Minneapolis City Hall, a huge amount of remaining NRP dollars, money that was allocated primarily to the poorest and most diverse neighborhoods of Minneapolis, is being reallocated overwhelmingly to the wealthiest and least diverse Mpls. neighborhoods in the form of tax savings. This reallocation is more economically regressive than the truly regressive taxation by Republicans shown in the graph. It sends approximately $9 dollars to the affluent neighborhoods for every $1 dollar to the least affluent.  This is a wealth transfer from poor to rich of remarkable and unjust proportions. While the percentage tax saving is the same for both groups, the point is: the money to produce this huge influx to the non-diverse and affluent southwest neighborhoods is coming overwhelmingly from the poor and diverse neighborhoods such as Hawthorn, Jordan, Lind-Bohanon, Harrison and Near North, as seen in the chart. How is it possible that the outcome of the actions of our Democrats in City Hall so resembles and even goes beyond the results of the most conservative Republican majorities we have had in decades??

One of the legislators with us at that recent meeting commented that some of these Council Members who supported this action voted against the well-being of their own constituents. Those there applauded in recognition of the truth of this remark.

So let’s look at this. One argument for these actions by City Hall that I’ve heard is an anecdote. “This will help an older woman on fixed income found crying because she might lose her house”. This is sad, but won’t wash. This woman needs real help. Not political tears. These remarks simply reveal how little this elected official knows about this issue. It’s time to get honest and get educated! We all need to face it that this woman will not be helped by this reallocation. The most she will receive is $20 to $35 dollars for one year from the Council action.maybe less, since she is not a person of means and probably lives in a very modest home. Let’s not kid ourselves. Without real help, she will lose her home and end up with her children in a shelter. I have personally assisted with foreclosure prevention…I know first hand that these piddly dollars will do nothing, but buy a few groceries!

On the other hand, she and others like her stand a real chance of being helped by a strong neighborhood organization with NRP funded foreclosure prevention programs and the know-how and proximity to hold her hand, get her through her hard times and help her rearrange her finances. The fact is the central government at City Hall will never even know about the vast majority of these individual tragedies until they have blanketed our neighborhoods en masse and are dealt with through tear-downs, population loss, and much sadder stories, while never actually helping the real people that once lived there and for whom, the claim is, that City Hall is doing all this.

In the event that elected officials hear of these sad situations… what resources, financial and hands-on, will City Hall bring to the individual tables of these people?? What did the Council Member who told me of her sad constituent offer this person? A one-time $25 dollar property tax break?? Who will take these people’s hands through the complicated processes to find and secure help?? Does this Council Member know how difficult and involved this is? And for every lost household, there goes a taxpayer and a home and here comes a vacant and boarded building and soon after …an empty lot, more crime and less livability for everyone else living near by! How does this misguided policy strengthen any city goals?

The truth should be faced: What is needed is serious foreclosure prevention assistance with the dollars found in the NRP funding which were rightfully and wisely set aside by the state legislature years ago for just such a time as this, along with the kind of help that has been and can be produced by the tough and savvy urban-core neighborhood organizations of Minneapolis, neighborhoods like Hawthorn, Harrison, Lind-Bohanon and Phillips Community.

The majority of NRP dollars in these neighborhoods from which the funds are being taken go towards housing loans/grants, foreclosure prevention assistance, rehab of foreclosures, emergency home loan safety nets, down-payment assistance, public safety efforts, youth programming, and modest staffing expenses required to do these things. In other words, if left in place, they would go toward actually helping those people like the woman mentioned as well as contributing to the retention and stabilization of the tax base of a large portion of Minneapolis where it is currently facing real decline and being replaced by crime, diminished livability and population flight.

Given these remarks, one question is, ‘Why would an administration made up entirely of Democrats create actions so clearly economically regressive? …so regressive that the results are indistinguishable from those that would have been produced by a very conservative Republican administration, a [Wisconsin]Governor Walker administration as it were?” I can only guess that, since this really accomplishes nothing of significance and is so obviously damaging, it is a way of covering for a serious failure to actually make real structural choices that, over the long haul, would have helped avoid such heavy financial difficulties. Since it seems like a dramatic act, it appears to be an attempt to create a perception of care by City Hall, in the hopes it won’t be noticed that it radically penalizes the ‘least of these’, accomplishes nothing of durable value and sends a terrible and demoralizing message to all those working in the more challenged neighborhoods. In reality it says that what we really care about is covering our political backsides more than really helping the woman with the tears.

As to why some Council Members supported this against the well-being of their own constituents…? Some possible reasons: perhaps they just didn’t really do the math and think it all the way through and were impressed by the current economic situation. Perhaps they were intimidated by forceful colleagues on the Council….Perhaps they are weary of the cacophony of the neighborhood voices…Perhaps they wish to be rid of the NRP administration and consolidate City Hall…but none of these reasons or all of them together are big enough to justify this action. There can be no morally or fiscally appropriate excuse for any Democrat who actually understands this to support such a level of injustice as this wealth transfer from poor to rich is and especially when it creates no real accomplishment and only the illusion of help.

My second question is this: Are Southwest neighborhood dwellers aware of how regressive the actions of City Hall are that produced their small tax break for next year? They apparently thought they voted for a Mayor and Council who are expressive of the values of the Democratic Party. Are they aware of how closely these regressive results resemble a conservative Republican agenda? Do they really desire with their large comfortable homes around the Lakes to receive a few hundred dollars against a property tax bill of frequently over $10,000, to demand this small property tax offset from their Council Members at such enormous cost to the low-income, diverse and challenged neighborhoods of Minneapolis? Are they really prepared to benefit to this degree as the sustaining funds of the impoverished ethnic neighborhoods are plundered on their behalf? Are they really going to stand by and not complain to their Council Members that a wealth transfer from the poor to the pockets of the rich almost unheard of in the history of this City is unacceptable?

I believe that the injustice of this action by City Hall is economically and morally unparalleled in its blatantsy, but also in the level to which these facts are being ignored and left shamefully unexamined. These issues need to be raised and faced. This has created a class division in the heart of the City remarkable for the fact that we seem nearly all to belong to the Democratic Party. What can this possibly mean that the poor of this City are treated this way and looted by fellow party members of what was once the party of compassion? Have we nowhere to go?

In light of this, many of us in Phillips Community and other challenged neighborhoods call upon members of the affluent neighborhoods to be bold enough to repudiate these actions by the City and contact their own Council Members, if need be, to demand that they change course. I refuse to believe that those inhabitants of the southwest neighborhoods are really so ethically compromised and unknowledgeable as to accept the City’s plunder of the poorest neighborhoods in order to hand them a pittance of property tax relief today and a future legacy of having turned their backs on their poor and diverse Minneapolis fellow citizens, and profited from their losses tomorrow. I have heard some members of southwest neighborhoods say “I love this City”. What can this possibly mean if the acceptance of these actions is allowed to go forth??

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One Response to “Commentary NRP Funds…Are Mpls. City Hall Democrats still Democrats? Party of Compassion?? Do the Math!! The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Poorer and Neighborhoods, too”

  1. Stacy McCollough says:

    Hello, I just wanted to take a moment to comment after reading your article on NRP funds. I feel that this is promoting class warfare, and puts down people in the Republican party. The facts and this article are then flavored with negative seasoning. It does not persuade one to think and feel according to your goal, as it is too negative. Gone is the belief that Democrats are the party of compassion, for one. If you make generalizations/ prejudicial statements on conservatives, I will tell you the way your party is percieved. Secondly, it seems that democrats are out to keep people down and dependent all under the guise of promoting, caring and helping. But its appearing phoney and power hungry as of late. Saving money on property taxes is not a bad thing, is not a guilty thing. Not in the opinion of many. If you’d like to discuss ways to earn/keep money for NRP it isn’t by being angry about what people pay on property taxes to the state. Thank you for reading,
    Stacy McCollough

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