Framing False Choices in Minnesota

The dominant political philosophy of the past two-plus decades has been that Americans are overtaxed and that slashing taxes is the key solution to the problem of the day, whatever that may be. But there is new evidence that the ideology is wearing thin. Chris Coleman, for one, is throwing that idea right out the window.

As the mayor of St. Paul, MN, Coleman has pushed for - and recently won approval of - a plan to raise $25 million in bonds to accelerate the revitalization and boost the attractiveness and competitiveness of his city.

The so-called Invest St. Paul Initiative would, among other things, acquire and demolish dilapidated housing, boost small businesses, and revive commercial corridors. The plan is a key piece of Mayor Coleman's campaign to make St. Paul "the Most Livable City in America."

"For 11 years, we didn't increase the size of the [city tax] levy," he said. "Our metro tax rating fell from second to 75th. However, that was not a sign of fiscal prudence. Rather, it was a sign of disinvestment -- and our community is beginning to feel the consequences. We were lured by false choices ... that we could somehow maintain our quality of life without paying for it.''

The mayor's plan sparked some controversy because it focuses intensely in four key neighborhoods, leaving some to wonder what would happen to other parts of town in need of reinvestment.

But the local paper editorialized in favor of the strategy and the City Council recently approved moving forward.

The action signals the public mood about taxes and public investment might be changing. That is certainly the case in Minnesota. Earlier this year, well before the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, Republican Gov. Pawlenty said Minnesota would "never be a bargain basement state" and that cutting taxes was not necessarily a path to modern prosperity. Now community leaders in St. Paul are striking a similiar theme: taxes are the price of civilized society, not necessarily a burden to be relieved of at all costs.