Hodges Blames Late Budget on Public Safety Tragedies

Minneapolis taxpayers will just have to wait and see how much Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges plans to jack up their property taxes next year. Hodges’ explanation for not releasing a detailed 2018 budget by August 15 as required by law? The tragic shooting of Justine Rusz­czyk Damond and the fatal explosion at Minnehaha Academy put too much of a burden on City Hall to meet the deadline, according to the Star Tribune’s account.

But a courageous member of a key city board isn’t buying Her Honor’s excuse for meeting perhaps the most basic requirement in her job description.

A member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation is asking a judge to force Mayor Betsy Hodges to file a full 2018 budget with the City Council “immediately,” arguing the mayor’s delayed release of her budget is a disservice to citizens and a violation of the city charter.

Carol Becker, one of two elected members of the six-person board that sets the city’s maximum property tax levy, filed the complaint in Hennepin County Court on Friday.

Hodges plans to withhold the more than 500-plus page long city budget until the day before the public hearing on the budget next month. She compares her delay in making the budget public to the postponement incurred after the I-35W bridge collapse in 2007.  But Becker told City Pages that’s quite a stretch.

“We had dozens of people dead,” says Becker. “We had a huge economic disruption in the city because we disrupted one of our most core transportation infrastructure pieces. ”

The shooting of a civilian by a police officer “just wasn’t the same,” says Becker, who doesn’t “find any of [Hodges’] arguments compelling. She’s had months to work on this.”

The budget will be a key issue in what’s already been a tough reelection campaign for Hodges. Becker calls the mayor’s inaction a “dereliction of duty.”

Becker, who says she has not supported any of the mayoral candidates, pointed to the city charter, which requires that the budget due Aug. 15 include “a statement of all proposed expenditures, the revenue from all sources and a recommended five-year capital improvement program.”

If Hodges doesn’t release those details until Sept. 12, Becker said, citizens won’t have enough time to prepare for the Sept. 13 public hearing on the budget.

“This means that an individual has only one day to get the budget, read the budget [which is approximately an inch thick], prepare comments on the budget, organize with other individuals, get time off work and attend the public hearing,” Becker said.

No one has accused Hodges of exploiting the recent public safety tragedies in order to contain controversy over her budget proposal. But blaming her inability to meet the statutory obligations of her office leaves Hodges more vulnerable than ever to criticism from both taxpayers and her rivals for City Hall.