Conservation Minnesota

It Means War

“IT MEANS WAR.  The plunderers carry off a vast quantity of local census material.  A wave of indignation sweeps over the city.”

Headlines, Minneapolis Journal of July 31, 1890

Sometimes we Minnesotans put way too much stock in government reports giving rise to exaggerated rhetoric in the press.  Such was the case with the 1880 and 1890 censuses for St. Paul and Minneapolis.  At that time the state capitol and the upstart industrial center were in a pitched battle to determine which city was most significant of the Twin Cities. Apparently the measure of that dispute was focused on who had the largest population, making the census counts something of great civic pride.

At that time the local governments made the census counts under the direction of the federal government.  The vision of a local census workers in both St. Paul and Minneapolis were somewhat enhanced by their civic pride as they started seeing residents where they weren’t, such as 25 living in one St. Paul barbershop and 14 families living in a Minneapolis bank.  What led to the harsh words in the Minneapolis Journal on July 31, 1890 was a peculiar preemptory strike by government officials residing in St. Paul.  The US marshal arrested several census workers in Minneapolis on the charge of government fraud and seized their census information.  Minneapolis accused a St. Paul booster of being behind the arrest for the purpose of depressing the Minneapolis Census count.

The dispute became so intense with cross accusations of fraud that the federal government stepped in to do the census counts in both cities.  At the end of the day, Minneapolis remained the larger of the two cities under the official federal count by approximately 30,000 citizens at a population of 164,581.  Minneapolis also received the distinction of being the most nefarious in their counting process.  In their preliminary counts, Minneapolis counters had 18,229 fictitious citizens compared to St. Paul’s 9,425.  Given the intensity of the sibling rivalry some 120 years ago, it’s amazing we have remained known as the Twin Cities.

Recently a couple of reports from our state government caught our attention.  Though probably not as significant as the 1890 census, they will lead to a significant amount of public rhetoric.  The first of those reports was completed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) regarding the performance of the “Legacy Accounts”.  These accounts are created as part of the constitutional amendment for the “Clean Water, Land and Legacy” adopted in 2008.  Some of the news reporting focused on concerns raised by the OLA regarding transparency and conflicts of interest which are issues that Conservation Minnesota has been a leader in demanding action on over the first few years of the accounts.

Unfortunately, the OLA failed to provide any clarity on the questions of what it means when the Constitution talks about these additional funds being used to “supplement traditional sources”.  Conservation Minnesota has always argued that these monies should not just backfill in budget cuts but be actually used to fund new effort to clean up our lakes and protect our habitat.  There will still be significant work to do in this area and Conservation Minnesota has been calling on the Governor and the Legislature to take leadership in developing appropriate parameters for the use of these funds.

The other significant report that came out this week was the November budget forecast.  This is the information used by the Legislature and Governor to balance the state budget.  The good news for the first time in several years is that the state government actually has a budget surplus.  The report indicates that we have a projected $876 million surplus (2.5%) — but don’t get too excited.  This number is probably about as flimsy the census numbers for Minneapolis in 1890.

Most of the surplus is the result of last biennium closing out $550 million better than anticipated and from expenditure reductions in the Health and Human Services doing better than predicted.  The report actually projects state revenues will decline slightly, by $24 million, over the next two years.  The forecast indicates that any unexpected shock to the economy such as oil prices rising or the deepening of the economic crisis in Europe could make this surplus disappear quicker than those 14 families living in the bank in Minneapolis in 1890.

Expect a great deal of political rhetoric in the press about taking credit for this positive news, but don’t put much stock in it. The reality is that the surplus will disappear anyway starting in the next biennium in 2013.  The forecast notes that next biennium is already significantly into the red with a projected deficit at $1.3 billion.  This is without any repayment of the school aid payment shift gimmick of $2.2 billion or any recognition of inflation which is estimated to be $1.3 billion. Taking those numbers into account Minnesota is facing likely another $5 billion (15%) deficit starting the 2013 session.  That number assumes the 2012 Legislature spends none of this budget cycle’s anticipated $876 million surplus in this session.  It appears the budget war will continue for some time.

*101 Best Stories of Minnesota, Merle Potter, Harrison and Smith Co., 1931, page 182

About John Tuma

John Tuma
John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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