The subzero temperatures didn’t scare away North Side residents. Roughly 50 people gathered Tuesday night at the Minneapolis Urban League to meet with their state legislative delegation and learn the details of Minnesota’s looming $4.8 billion budget deficit.
Freshmen Reps. Bobby Joe Champion (pictured) and Jeff Hayden (the only two African-Americans in the Legislature) were on hand, along with veteran state Sen. Linda Higgins. “The reality is that people are really, really frightened,” Hayden said at the start of the discussion.
The details of possible economic upheaval, however, were left to Bill Marx, chief fiscal analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives. Before he took to the microphone, audience members were given a friendly warning: “Now matter what he says, you can’t hit Mr. Marx.”
There were no physical threats issued against the economist as he explained the ugly details of the current budget situation, but plenty of questions and commentary. While the state’s economic plight was ostensibly the topic of the evening, most of the dialogue gravitated to the seemingly intractable troubles of the North Side. How can the area get its fair share of lottery revenues? What transportation improvements will the North Side see from the increase in the gas tax? How can the neighborhood prepare to reap the benefits from the looming federal stimulus package?
Marx was frequently at a loss to answer these pointed questions. The state bureaucrat could detail exactly how much of Minnesota’s budget is derived from “health impact fees,” but he was at a loss to explain how lottery revenues might improve the lives of poor folks in North Minneapolis.
The local politicians did their best to step in and placate the audience. “Nobody likes the journey that we’re on,” said Champion. “Nobody like the options on the table.”
One economic detail from Marx’s presentation clearly resonated with audience members: the minuscule portion (3.4 percent or $1.9 million) of the state’s budget derived from corporate income taxes. “It’s unconscionable that corporate taxes account for less than 5 percent of our budget,” noted one person, sparking a murmur of assent in the audience.
Marx finally made it through his power-point presentation after roughly two hours. His last point: the projected $4.8 billion deficit for the 2009-10 biennium is only expected to get worse when the latest budget forecast is released next month.
Despite the gloomy economic picture, Higgins implored residents to show up at the Capitol and make sure the area gets its fair share of what tax revenues are available.
“North Minneapolis can show up,” she said. “We will show up. We must show up.”