The central challenge of our city is one of priorities – our leaders are prioritizing ambitious and grandiose projects that are leaving us unable to satisfy our fundamental governmental responsibilities. There is perhaps no better example of this than the proposed, and absolutely unnecessary, expansion of the Como Pavilion – a beloved building in great condition – right here in Ward 5. How can we continue to push projects like this while so many of our people and services are being neglected? To have a functional city, we need to readjust our priorities. Let’s start by paying our firefighters and supporting them with a good contract. Let’s repair the roads, not with patchwork fixes, but with lasting repairs. Let’s find a way to improve the mediocre snow-shoveling services that left so many people stuck this past winter. Let’s find real solutions to address the rising violence and insecurity across the city. And let’s stop talking about addressing the challenge of homelessness; let’s start funding real actions to help address this.
As a councilmember, I will promote 3 priorities:
1 – Returning voice to our neighborhoods
So many people across St. Paul feel like they don’t really have a voice, as though the city’s decisions are being made without them. My top priority is to help create spaces of meaningful engagement for our citizens, spaces where our residents can speak and be heard. This is vital to the political legitimacy of our city, and to our ability to find effective and reasonable and effective solutions to our problems. If we don’t find a way to do this, we will continue to see patterns of low voter turnout in our marginalized communities, and the migration away from the city from those who feel ignored.
2 – Generating a sustainable revenue base
Since city leaders have not been able to effectively generate the revenue needed to sustain expenses, they have relied on continuous tax increases to fund the gap. For example, property taxes have increased nearly 15 percent this year, and the city is also proposing a 1 percent sales tax increase to repair the roads, a basic responsibility of government. We can’t continue down this route. Not only is it bad governance, it is also most burdensome for working class families and individuals on fixed incomes. This simply is not right. Fortunately, we can fix this problem. One very clear solution is for the city reduce its use of TIF (tax increment financing), a policy which attracts developers by providing 25 year tax breaks to incentivize investment. Instead, we need to reign in our use of TIF, and begin to generate revenue by having our developers pay their fair share in property taxes.
3 — Expanding “real” affordable housing
The city is suffering from a housing shortage, and this is making it difficult for people to contemplate homeownership, and often simply to pay the rent. Unfortunately, St. Paul has pushed the mantra that “all development is good development,” a doctrine resulting, primarily, in the widespread construction of $1500/month condos across the city. Let’s be clear – this is not affordable housing. Rather than continue to wait for the benefits of these condos to trickle down to regular people, we need to proactively work alongside developers to find new solutions focused on real affordability via new construction, new multi-plex options, the repurposing of historic buildings, tiny homes, and office conversions.