Eating Liberty


I live in St Paul and my taxes are going up.

St Paul’s a great place to live. In many respects, it’s a big small town. We’re parochial in all the right ways. Going to Minneapolis gives us, like many Minnesotans, pause.

Opinion: Eating Liberty

St Paul streets may challenge the nonresident but our priorities are clear: great neighbors, strong traditions, terrific schools, and, most critically, a wonderful sense of security and belonging. Which is why I’m more than a little honked off with conservative policy makers who think that my community threatens their liberty.

On Tuesday, St Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced a nearly 15 percent property tax increase, covering a projected 17 million dollar city budget deficit. That’s plan B. Plan A presumes that a special legislative session passes a $10.2 million dollar local government aid infusion, resulting in only a seven percent tax increase.

I’m not holding my breath on Plan A.

St Paul has made some goofy policy and spending choices in years past, heightening the city’s financial crises but it pales in comparison with the state policy shift’s impact. Governor Tim Pawlenty’s 2003 budget bill slashed Local Government Aid, ending the 1971 “Minnesota Miracle”, the highly successful 30-year revenue sharing and reallocation policy.

Local governments, left with few options, cut programs and raised property taxes. St Paul was no exception. However, our two previous mayors, Norm Coleman (now Minnesota’s senior US Senator, no relation to Chris Coleman) and Randy Kelly reduced the city’s marginal crises tolerance capacity, particularly by beginning to use “one-time” revenues to fund on-going programs. It’s an accounting maneuver that requires a regular supply of “one-time” revenues.

Stated another way, Mayors N. Coleman and Kelly created a house of cards. Governor Pawlenty knocked it over.

I suppose that I should take some comfort in the conservative contention that, with no new taxes, I’m more free. Grammatically, I’m freer, of course, not “more free” but the idea that government inherently suborns my liberty is nuts. Conservative ideologues sling the conception of “liberty” around like its sacred hash. I don’t buy that.

Liberty is not a commodity. It cannot be measured like corn prices or gold’s value. It certainly can’t disguise small minded greed.

A great many conservative thinkers are simply bloggers, pecking at basement keyboards while eating Hot Pockets. High-end conservative thinkers have the American Heritage Institute and crudités but really, it’s the same thing. They presume that St Paul’s liberty quotient rises with Governor Pawlenty’s “no new taxes” financial policy.

We’re not freer. We’re in a tough, unenviable spot. We’ll tighten our belts, close some libraries and rec centers, hire fewer cops and hope that crime doesn’t skyrocket. No one I know –and because I’m an open-minded progressive, I purposefully solicit my neighborhood’s conservative voices- is talking about our city’s great boost in liberty.

We’re talking about the last time we saw a patrolling squad car. We’re speculating about the decreased likelihood of next summer’s kids rec league baseball schedule. We’re discussing our increased property tax hit while eyeballing our fixed-income retiree neighbors and wondering how they’re dealing with it. We agree that we’ll be paying more to have less than we’d like

We’re okay with that, for now, but it doesn’t give us more liberty.