Minneapolis Defends $500,000 for Drinking Fountains

Written by Jeff Johnson on June 21, 2009. Posted in General

Writing on The Mayor Blog, Jeremy Hanson, Mayor Rybak’s Communications Director and Press Secretary, has posted an entry entitled “In Defense of Artistic Drinking Fountains” in which he takes issue with Governor Pawlenty’s criticism of the $500,000 Minneapolis recently spent on artist-designed water fountains in Minneapolis.  I posted on this issue last week.

In the post, Hanson claims the following:

The drinking fountains in question are funded with dedicated revenue streams that are completely separate from the City’s General Fund and have nothing to do with the amount of local government aid (LGA) the City gets from the State.

In defense of this assertion, Hanson states that the $500,000 comes from two sources.  Half comes from the city’s capital budget:

Each year, Minneapolis dedicates 1% of its capital bonding budget (around $250,000) to public art. The capitol budget is used for public infrastructure (buildings, streets, etc.) and has nothing to do with LGA, which goes into the City’s General Fund to pay for things like police officers and fire fighters.

The other half comes from the city’s “Water Fund”:

$250,000 (50% of the total cost) for the fountains also comes from a dedicated Water Fund. The source of this Fund is a water fee that is paid for by property owners (residential and business) and can only be used for things related to our water supply. The size and purpose of the City’s Water Fund has nothing to do with LGA or the City’s General fund.

As I posted earlier, it appears true that the $250,000 from the Water Fund likely cannot be spent on other city priorities, but it’s also reasonable to question whether there might be higher water-related priorities than artistic drinking fountains.

By contrast, the assertion that the $250,000 from the capitol budget “has nothing to do with LGA” and could not be spent on priorities like police officers and fire fighters is simply false.  The city council and Mayor decide each year how much will be dedicated to capitol spending (bonding) as opposed to other things.  A simple majority could decide tomorrow that the capitol budget should be smaller and the general operating budget should be larger.  It would not be difficult at all to reprioritize and place police officers and fire fighters ahead of artsy water fountains.  Mayor Rybak and his city council have decided not to do that.

Governments frequently hide behind the “dedicated pot of money” argument to deflect criticism about questionable spending projects – we do it in Hennepin County on occasion.  As is the case with at least half the $500,000 that Minneapolis has chosen to spend on artistic drinking fountains, that argument is not always legitimate.

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