Suburbs need to pull their weight

How are places like Eden Prairie and Eagan adversely affected by Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s new budget proposal? In short, they’re not. As a matter of fact, when asked this question, Pawlenty responded that the only negative impact for suburbanites would be that tuition at public universities might rise. Although the budget calls for reductions in local government aid to all cities in Minnesota, those most affected are the often underprivileged residents of the inner city and rural areas. To help the state deal with its major budget problems, the suburbs need to pay their fair share.

The burden of Pawlenty’s proposed budget cuts falls heavily on the shoulders of nonsuburbanites. While pledging not to raise taxes, Pawlenty opted instead to cut services people in the urban cores and rural towns use. Pawlenty made severe cuts in local government aid, which will likely encourage property tax hikes in the places where aid was most needed – often Minnesota’s large cities and small towns. Since property taxes are not distributed statewide, those who live in those places would be forced to foot the bill. In short, Pawlenty has not raised taxes for the rich suburban constituents who voted him into office – only for the less affluent people that did not.

Pawlenty has compared the state’s budget woes to a wagon that some pull and others simply ride. This formulation implies Minnesota, with its progressive tax rate, is forcing the state’s wealthier people to pay for services used mostly by the less well-off. But not only do suburban communities benefit from aid to the inner cities, inner cities are essential to their livelihoods. Minneapolis and St. Paul provide uniquely urban benefits including sports and concert venues, a diverse night life, beautiful parks such as Minnehaha and Harriet Island, as well as the University.

Inner cities are also essential to the suburbs’ economies. On any weekday, our freeways become writhing masses of suburban commuters heading into or leaving their jobs in the city. It is the inner city that provides the central, basic element of efficiency to suburban life. Proposals such as the Hiawatha light rail line were originally designed to add an element of efficiency to the suburbs by providing a feasible park-and-ride system over the clearly less practical commuter system. Unfortunately, Pawlenty can’t seem to comprehend that the rail line isn’t only for city dwellers, and so he cut support for it. If suburbanites don’t want to use public transportation, it is not the city’s fault, because the city dwellers use it every day.

Sadly, that the suburbs would skip their obligations to pay some of these costs is nothing new. For example, proposals for a Twins stadium in Minneapolis were ruined after many western suburbs aligned with St. Paul to guard themselves against any higher taxes needed to pay for it. Their reasoning was if Minneapolis was going to obtain a new stadium and all of the benefits that go with it, then Minneapolis should have to pay for it, neglecting the fact that many suburbanites attend the games and use the city for their personal entertainment.

Pawlenty has shown his true colors in this latest budget proposal. They are not the colors of a good leader. A good leader finds solutions to problems that include the wants and needs of all people. Perhaps it is not the cities that need a reality check, but Pawlenty and his suburban constituency. Their demands on how urban life should function, with respect to entertainment facilities, transportation, privatization and social programs, are seen only through their own narrow self-interest.