Over the past few months, since George Floyd’s homicide, there has been debate around defunding the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). While I now reside in Minneapolis, my roots are in small town, rural Minnesota, where I was born and raised. Over the past few months, I have noticed many folks from Greater Minnesota decrying the notion of defunding the police on social media. They are suggesting that folks from the Twin Cities who support this idea are anti-American or hate the police. I find these claims to be specious and not based in fact. A recent poll of Minneapolis voters conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling indicates there is broad support in Minneapolis for police reform, including some level of reallocation of funding of the MPD; yet there is not majority support for abolishing the police.
Given the controversy that calls to defund the MPD has elicited, we owe it to ourselves as Minnesotans to look more broadly at state funding of police departments in metropolitan areas and Greater Minnesota over the past 20 years.
In the early 2000s, during the governorship of Tim Pawlenty, local government aid (LGA) was drastically reduced (state aid was reduced by 47% from 2002 to 2008). This led to lower levels of funding for community resources in large cities and small towns in Greater Minnesota. While many towns spent more to staff their fire, rescue and police forces, less money was allocated to many municipalities by the state. Mayors and city officials in small towns and major cities were blamed for their overspending by GOP leaders. Towns were further hampered in their revenue raising efforts by Gov Pawlenty-led “levy limits” which prevented tax increases sufficient to offset cuts in LGA, though there were “exceptions” for police and fire. Nevertheless, the impact of deep LGA cuts ran deep into city budgets and ultimately affected essential services.
Small towns faced insurmountable budgetary challenges because of this reduced LGA, increasing labor costs, limits to increased taxation and a steadily decreasing populations resulting in a lower tax base. The residents were pitched a new “cost saving” plan that would hire their county sheriff or a neighboring town’s police department to provide policing in their jurisdiction. Supported by a steady reduction in violent crime in Greater Minnesota, this was a pitch that city councils and mayors were able to sell to their townspeople even if it meant they wouldn’t have a dedicated police department in their town.
Today, at least 17 small towns (probably more) in Greater Minnesota do not have their own police department. Who really initiated this decrease in LGA that contributed to the defunding of Police Departments in many towns in Greater Minnesota? The Republican senators, representatives and governor led the cuts to LGA under the guise of small government. Unfortunately, the GOP-led cuts in LGA have had a lasting and negative impact, but perhaps the recent DFL-led efforts to restore LGA will provide a needed boost for police departments and fire and rescue services in Greater Minnesota.
So the next time you hear someone vilifying the “evil, liberal Twin Cities residents” for their supposed anti-American police defunding (when we are really just calling for long overdue and necessary police reforms) let them know that the Minnesota GOP initiated and carried out a systematic defunding of police departments in Greater Minnesota in the early 2000s.
I will be frank, I am sick of hearing Minnesota GOP politicians vilify us in Minneapolis for wanting police reform while they say they “Back the Blue” and claim to stand for “law and order.” Their past actions to defund the police through a systematic reduction in LGA and the lasting impact of these actions tell a different story. We know Minnesota GOP politicians are the original defunders of the police.
Matt Beckman is a resident of Minneapolis. The views expressed here are his own.
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