Views and Opinions from SD61 Republicans

During the 2016 election cycle, we asked Republicans in our Minnesota senate district (roughly Southwest Minneapolis) for their views on a range of items via a survey.  We emailed people who attended the caucus in 2016 and shared their email address.  We had 140 people share their views with us – all individual responses were anonymous.

We conducted this survey to identify key issues and positions held by local party participants.  Our local Republican party and local candidates will be able to utilize this information to inform our approach to engaging with our base and to connecting with additional voters.  And we need to engage with additional voters!  Our local candidates hovered around 20% of the vote in 2016 which was well above the Presidential vote.  Losing is no fun – we would like to change that over time and impact statewide races too.

Based on the results of the 2016 caucus in our senate district (Rubio over 50%, Kasich in second), you may have suspected that our local Republicans may have different positions on some issues than the national or state party.  To appeal to a larger portion of our district (more than 20%!), we may need to stake out some positions out of sync with the national/state Republican positions.  The survey answers suggest that we can rally our shared core values and identify opportunities to broaden our appeal while representing our supporters.

You can see the survey results for yourself here.   We look forward to discussing as a group at upcoming local events.

A City that Works for Everyone

By Shawn Smith, of Kenwood

Our city’s elected officials reiterate often that Minneapolis should be a city that works for everyone. This is a worthy platform. All people that live here should have equal opportunity to live their lives in liberty and pursuit of their dreams. But, are city budgets constructed in a way that will not work for all of us after all?

In Mayor Hodges 2017 recently approved budget, there are line items intended to work for everyone. Increasing police enables foot patrols and engagement. Hiring small business navigators is a noble initiative to help small businesses navigate the perhaps too-complex city licensing and regulations. Providing resources to improve economic and educational outcomes is inspiring to many. Street paving programs will keep cars out of the tire shop. It is hard to argue against these.

But even within some of these priorities and others not mentioned, there are questionable expenditures. And it’s time to give a “woot woot” to those that make this possible, the taxpayers. Why can’t this group get a break so the city continues to work for them too…and be good shepherds of our money.

City leaders have imposed a steady march of increased property taxes over the years, with the only exception this century being 2014. Taxes for many in Minneapolis increased 50% or more from 2007 through 2012 due to a declining residential tax base and a sluggish commercial base. Residential homeowners were asked (#notasked) to shoulder the burden to keep the city afloat. For homeowners, these were painful years because monthly mortgage payments increased and put significant pressure on household budgets. We had to cut back, and the city government continued to grow and spend.

But now values are up. Hundreds of shiny new condos are online downtown. Office space is near capacity. Where is the relief and payback for shouldering the burden of those lean years? In a year where the city is flush with cash, the city is choosing to spend 7.6% more, adding 59 positions and an incremental annual spend of $90M for 2017.   Opinions will vary on whether each new spending item is outrageous (some are) or justified (some are). But while no one budget item is overtly outrageous to most taxpayers, it is the sum total that should be.

Property taxes are a real problem. Just talk to people. It is a problem regardless of whether the voter is a downtown Millennial or a Kenwood near-retiree; Democrat or Republican or Independent. Real estate agents talk about how the taxes are a reason not to buy in Minneapolis and drives buyers to Edina, Golden Valley.   Many of my neighbors look at the future and wonder if they will be able to live in their family homes even after the mortgage is paid. Cities that we model, such as Portland, Seattle, and Denver have tax rates less than ½ of what we pay.

And then there is the issue of transparency. In the Truth and Taxation notice, the city chose to say, “Thanks to growth in the tax base, 1/3 of all residential properties may see a decrease or no increase in the city portion of their property taxes.” But this phrasing avoids the reality: 70% of residential property owners will bear an increase or see no decrease. Was relief ever a consideration at City Hall?

Even if we don’t get a tax cut, consider these points on how the city has set its priorities:

The city has millions when it comes to bicycling infrastructure, but our alleys are in disrepair and even unpaved.

The city is spending millions on outreach programming when our schools have to be funded by a special voter-approved levy.

The city is adding positions at City Hall when most mature companies require that head count be kept neutral.

The city is retrofitting our streets with pedestrian bump-outs but we are assessed to repair our sidewalks.

Hennepin County doesn’t fare much better on transparency. Their Truth In Taxation notifications, which are supposed to be our source of truth, are inaccurate. At first glance, total property taxes appear to be going down. But on closer inspection, the notices do not include the voter approved school levy. A Correct “Final Truth in Taxation notice is not going to come. This means that many homeowners will not know their true level of taxes until it is time to pay them.

Back to Minneapolis. We need a city that works for all of us. Many appreciate that the city is trying to work for those that need some help along the way. But that must be balanced with working for the people that own homes and make initiatives possible. And we hear all the time that we are not doing enough.

The city responds to citizens that take the time to engage. Join me in vocalizing the need for lower property tax levels and spending accountability. Study your Truth in Taxation statement so you know where your money is going. Vote with your voice before you vote with your feet, as some are doing by moving to neighboring Golden Valley. Then, we can truly accomplish a city that works for everyone.

Metropolitan Council Certification Review

By Shawn Smith, of Kenwood

Every four years, the FTA and Federal Department of Transportation recertify the Metropolitan Council. Certification is necessary in order for The Council to continue to receive federal funds. The FTA determines whether there will be certification, certification with a corrective action plan, or no certification. Some of the criteria used for the determination include transparency and public engagement in planning transit, good stewardship of limited federal dollars, and adherence to ethical standards. Since 2011, I have been an active and vocal participant in the process to plan Southwest Light Rail. When Senate Candidate Bob “Again” Carney learned that there would be an opportunity to testify directly to the FTA on this matter, I headed over to The Council’s headquarters with Bob, George Puzak, and Stuart Chazin.   Here is my testimony:

My name is Shawn Smith and I live in the Kenwood area of Minneapolis. I am a director on the Kenwood neighborhood board. I am not speaking on behalf of that organization. I mention it to demonstrate that via that role, I am familiar with the topic of Metropolitan Council’s planning process, and Southwest Light Rail is the best example I can provide.

I want to call attention to The Metropolitan Council’s unchecked power. Because I care about Kenwood and Southwest Minneapolis and what I’ve observed in the planning process for Southwest Light Rail and its impact on us.

The project is at $1.9B and climbing. I was glad to hear you say that your review is to ensure that limited federal funds are spent wisely – it sure doesn’t feel like the Council recognizes this. Although SWLRT is significantly over budget, expensive vs flexible modes of transit, it doesn’t serve transit dependent populations in Minneapolis, only a small number of cars are removed from the highways, and it doesn’t reduce carbon emissions, this train is still coming. What kind of process is this where so much public money can be spent and the results do not meet basic transit criteria?

The Met Council chair stated that this line would not be built without bipartisan legislative support, but the train is still coming. What kind of process is this when representatives elected by the people have said “no” and they are ignored?

The Met Council chair stated that certificates of participation or county funding would not be used to cover the state’s 10% share of the project cost, but the Governor doubled down and “over ruled him” and the train is still coming. What kind of process is this where one person can have so much influence? And since the state won’t pay – the most negatively impacted by this project might now have to pay for it via new taxes?

More Citizen Advisory Committee meetings have been cancelled than have been held (our neighborhood has a CAC representative). But this train is still coming. What kind of process is it when the Council doesn’t see the importance of regularly engaging the public at the frequency that was promised?

There is a viable lawsuit contending that other Minneapolis routes were not properly considered. It will not be heard in court until September 2017, but this train is still coming as though there were no lawsuit. What kind of process is this when hundreds of millions are already being spent but the whole project could be derailed a year from now?

What kind of process is it when representatives of the Met Council arrogantly say they are confident this train will be built because “every light rail project dies 1000 deaths before the first rider?”

What kind of process is it when the best argument to build the line is that if we don’t, $900 million of federal funds will go to another city?

We need, and expect, greater accountability here. The Council no doubt has a ready talking point for all of the concerns I’ve mentioned. But when power is unchecked, and the end justifies the means, you don’t get accountability. And that’s why this train is still coming. Thank You

Please keep reading this paper for continued updates. I favor a vibrant, forward looking, transit system that serves Minneapolis. But this line is already becoming a bottomless pit of spending. And those that can hold them accountable need to know the full story. And you can still testify. Email me at ssmith288@me.com to find out how.

Also printed in the Hill Lake Press