Payments on Minneapolis' spending bender are coming due, and it's not pretty

The bills are now coming due for former Mayor R.T. Rybak's spending spree, leaving Minneapolis to borrow more for basics.

The bills are now coming due for former Mayor R.T. Rybak's spending spree, leaving Minneapolis to borrow more for basics.

Years back, the seeds of reawakening came to the Lyndale neighborhood from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. The Lyndale Walkers, one of Minneapolis’ first citizen patrols, and a Bike Cops program were two crime prevention initiatives created using almost $200,000 in city cash.

Another $3.7 million poured into projects like the Mid Town Greenway, as well hundreds of residential properties jonesing for renovation.

About $20 million annually was used to breath life anew into Minneapolis neighborhoods. Today, that program struggles to cobble together around $4 million.  

That's because payments on the city's spending bender are now coming due.  

According to the city Finance Department, Minneapolis is on the hook for about $1.6 billion in debt and operational costs for the convention center, the Vikings stadium, and the Timberwolves arena over the next 20 years.

Broken down, that's an annual three checks adding up to $80 million, money that's off the table for paving East Franklin Avenue, fixing swings at Kenwood Park, or financing low-interest business loans on West Broadway.

That also explains why the City Council today is expected to approve spending another $800 million to fix crumbling roadways and haggard parks over the next 20 years.

Simply put, a lot of money is already gone.

In a sharp gray suit, newly minted Chief Financial Officer Mark Ruff waxed pensively on April 11 before the Ways and Means Committee. The tone of conversations he'd had with elected officials and staffers has been, said Ruff, "Well, we don't have the money to address any of these issues."

To address the conundrum, he added, Minneapolis either must increase property taxes or reprioritize existing resources. 

The council chooses the former. That's because the priorities were already established before many of the current panelists took office.   

The chief architect behind the mounting debt was former Mayor R.T. Rybak. 

During Rybak's 12-year mayoral reign, spending on Minneapolis roads flat-lined. Only around three miles of city streets per year on average were rebuilt, according to internal documents. Before that, it was 10 miles.

In 2011, Rybak killed the quasi-autonomous Neighborhood Revitalization Program. He replaced it with an underfunded agency under the umbrella of the mayor's office. What was $20 million to neighborhoods has struggled with less than a quarter of that ever since.   

He also pitched a $97 million renovation of Target Center. According to the city's current numbers, sprucing up, paying off, and maintaining the arena will cost $272 million between 2015 and 2035.

Then there's the Vikings stadium, which was supposed to set Minneapolitans back $150 million.  Starting in 2021, annual debt service and maintenance will average about $25 million. In other words, between 2021 and 2035, almost $350 million will go to subsidize a billionaire's palace.    

How is it that Minneapolis came to bankrolling toys for a few over funding the sidewalks, teeter-totters, and streets?


In 2013, the Star Tribune's Jon Tevlin attempted to talk to Rybak about the argument that the former mayor was guilty of what Mark Twain called the most cowardly of lies — i.e., half-truths. 

Rybak responded that "the last thing that this community needs is to dredge up an old argument."

Nobody is dredging up jack. We're living it every day.